In this series of blog posts, I will explain the County Court process with regards to collection of debt against delinquent owners. Most lawsuits to collect delinquent association debt are filed in County Court so long as the amount owed does not exceed $15,000.
A County Court lawsuit is commenced by preparing and filing a written ‘Complaint’ that specifies the parties involved to the litigation, the legal right to recover the debt and the amount requested against a delinquent owner. It is the legal document that explains to the court why the lawsuit has been filed. For example, a Complaint could state that ABC Homeowner Association is suing John Debtor in the amount of $3,000 for delinquent assessments, interest, late fees and legal fees and that the covenants of the Association require payment of assessments and other charges by John Debtor.
The Complaint must then be served on the delinquent owner(s) by a process server or county sheriff. The Complaint is also served with a ‘Summons’, which is a notice to the owner(s) being sued that they need to file an ‘Answer’ (written response to the Complaint specifying their defenses or explaining why they don’t owe a certain debt) with the court on or before the ‘return date’. On the return date, the delinquent owners have an opportunity to meet with the association’s attorney, in court, to propose and discuss a settlement, make payment in full or discuss their defenses to the lawsuit. The judge assigned to the case is typically not involved at the return date and lets the delinquent owners and association attorney try to work out a settlement. If a resolution is not reached, the homeowners can file their Answer with the court. If the homeowners do not appear at the return date or do not timely file their written Answer with the court, then a Default Judgment enters against them. The Judgment is a document issued by the Judge or magistrate that states that the association has prevailed and has the right to pursue collection of a specified amount (the judgment amount) against the delinquent owner(s) by, for example, garnishing their assets.
Stay tuned to future blog posts for a discussion of the County Court process when a homeowner disputes the debt and files an Answer with the court.