This article is going to address the steps that I took to win a judgment against a deadbeat non-paying client for a renovation project on his home. It is not intended as legal advice because I am not an attorney; it is just a narrative of the steps we took to get a judgment!
If you are forced to take somebody to small claims court I do advise you to research the laws within your state and get some friendly advice from an attorney. As a small contractor and an individual you have the right to collect your money; you just need to make sure you follow the laws and do not overstep.
Preparing for court:
Review the steps that are making you take this action. Outline the presentation that you are going to make when you are in front of the judge.
Make sure you have all the necessary documentation; make copies of the pertinent information and arrange it in a sequential understandable fashion.
Your information should include:
- The signed contract that has the property address.
- Make sure the contract is dated and signed by all responsible parties.
- The contract should have a descriptive scope of work and there are a good set of blue prints and specifications.
- Documentation showing the work was completed according to the plans and specifications. Meaning copies of the inspection reports.
- There was a 3rd party inspector and you have copies of all the inspection reports.
- You have lots of pictures showing the work as it proceeded.
- No extra work was done without a documented change order signed and approved.
- If there are any disagreements you need to have all documentation detailing the events.
- Sometimes if possible record the disagreements. Again, never raise your voice in the discussions!
Going before the judge:
I recommend dressing appropriately! Wear a tie and suit coat if possible. It is better to be overdressed than being too casual. During one of my cases there was a guy that was wearing shorts and a tank top; the judge was not very receptive to his case.
Remember that the judge is a professional and they are used to dealing with other professionals. They expect courtesy and respect in their court room. The people going before a judge should show the respect they deserve!
When you go before the judge you need to be as brief as possible. Do not waste the judge’s time. Present your case in a short, concise and sequential manner.
Provide the documentation in a sequential manner; make it short and professional. It helps if you have pictures. The more documentation the better but do not try to BS your way through your presentation.
Do not dump a pile of papers on the judge’s desk and ask him/her to go through it. I saw a man do this and he was almost thrown out of the courtroom.
If you are well prepared and have the information that is hard to argue with; the chances are you will be successful in your attempt to get a judgment.
Yeah! It probably doesn’t hurt to watch a case or two of “Judge Judy”!
There are some people that argue that a judgment is worthless but I feel a judgment gives you an arsenal that will enable you to collect the money that is due. The collecting process might take some time but you can and probably will collect what is due you.
A couple of things that a judgment allows you to do are:
- You can sell the judgment.
- You can have somebody in the business collect the money for a fee.
- You can put a lien on their property.
- You are able to garnish their wages if they are working.
- You can levy their personal property.
- You can collect their personal assets.
Most of the things listed are done with the assistance of law officers. The time spent is well worth it because you need to remember that you are a professional and professionals take the action necessary for them to survive and prosper.
Once you get your judgment the real fun begins!
Here is a video that will demonstrate the importance of proper documentation and having backup information. Watch the video and think about how you would have presented the case differently.