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Garnishment of Tenant’s Wages

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled today (January 10, 2020) that an employee’s wages CAN be claimed as exempt personal property if there is a garnishment.

In the case, Renter’s Realty sued Ieisha Smith for eviction and for damages. Renter’s obtained an order of possession and a judgment for $5,145. They garnished her wages. Ms. Smith filed a motion to stop the garnishment, under a claim of exemption. She said her bi-weekly wages were $900 or less and all of the money was used for current living expenses.

Renter’s argued she could not claim wages as exempt because Alabama Code Section 6-10-6.1 (which became law on June 11, 2015) specifically said that was not allowed.

The Court ruled the law was unconstitutional. It said Section 204 of the Alabama Constitution provided that personal property up to the value of $1,000 was exempt, and the courts had always interpreted “personal property” to include wages due from an employer. Because the Constitution gave debtors a specific protection, the Legislature was not allowed to take it way with just a statute. There would have to be a Constitutional Amendment, which had not happened.

More than likely, Renter’s will try to get a different opinion from the Alabama Supreme Court. Unless and until that happens, the Court of Civil Appeals decision is the law. Wages can be claimed as exempt from garnishment.

4 thoughts on “Garnishment of Tenant’s Wages

  1. here in madison county legal aid has always known about this exemption from judgments based on breach of rental contract (as opposed to torts) – when a tenant gets legal aid representation u can 4get about getting your $ – only tenants can sue landlords & collect – which is why i can”t stand liberal politicians (including judges) who favor tenants because they think tenants r at a legal disadvantage

  2. Incredible. If this new law sticks, and the ala. supreme court upholds it, then a landlord has no recourse at all on tenants that don’t pay the rent, because wages are the only thing that tenants have. In my county of Jefferson, eviction takes so long as it is, and now, with this new law there’s no reason to pay rent at all – after all, their wages can’t even be garnished anymore…

  3. The City of Atlanta Police Department recently announced that it was immediately implementing a “no chase” policy. That means that if anyone has committed a crime in Atlanta and attempts to flee in a motor vehicle, the police may not engage in an automobile chase. What kind of message does that send to criminals?

    By the same token, if garnishment of wages is no longer a possible sanction for tenants, are tenants more likely or less likely to comply with their rental agreements?


    1. Gary, I think most tenants don’t think that far ahead.

What do you think?