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.
If you think it is necessary, you can collect a SEPARATE security deposit from a lease guarantor. By law, you are limited to one month’s deposit from the tenant, but guarantors are not covered by the residential landlord/tenant act. They can agree to be liable for legal fees (which tenants cannot agree to) and they can be required to pay any amount of security deposit IN ADDITION TO the one month you get from your tenant.
Why would you require that? Suppose tenant is not financially strong. Maybe guarantor is, maybe they aren’t. But, you don’t want to chase down the guarantor and sue them and try to collect if the tenant defaults or damages the property. The additional security deposit gives you added protection.
Interested in more legal tools and ideas for Alabama residential tenants? Click “Resources” tab above to see when the 6-hour Landlord Tenant Law or the 3-hour FAQ Landlord Law classes will be in a city near you. Both earn CE credit and also open to public. If you cannot attend in person, both classes can be taken live but over the Internet and are also available by streaming video. There is no CE credit for classes you do not physically attend in person.
Service of eviction lawsuit papers on tenants can be accomplished by attempting personal service at the residence and, if nobody is home, leaving a copy posted on the door and also mailing a copy within 24 hours. This is called “post and mail service” or, more colorfully, “nail and mail service.”
The mailed copy can be regular mail. A recent Alabama Court of Civil Appeals Decision threw the process into doubt, and seemed to require evidence regarding the exact efforts the process server took to serve the papers. The court included factors such as time of day, time waited after knocking, and others. That decision has now been overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court.
In a ruling on Friday, August 30, 2019, the Alabama Supreme Court said that such detailed testimony was not required. It reinstated the default judgment against the tenant in the eviction lawsuit, ruling that service was properly made on her. The court noted that the statute’s additional requirement of mailing the lawsuit papers within 24 hours satisfied United States Supreme Court concerns in similar cases that did not include a second method of service. If you want to read the entire decision, the case is Ex parte Trinity Property Consultants, LLC. You can read the decision HERE.
Bottom line: Back to the way you were doing things before the Alabama Civil Appeals decision of Mays v. Trinity Property Consultants, LLC. It’s not that there’s a new sheriff in town. It’s that the old sheriff is back!
Interested? Click for info on L/T Law Class