Tenant Wage Attachment, a Rarely Used Landlord Remedy

August 19, 2011

Being a landlord can be a very rewarding investment if you have great tenants that pay on time and take care of your property. When the wrong tenant moves in, however, if can be a nightmare. If you’ve ever had a tenant not pay, you probably know how things usually go. You give notice, file a complaint with the local District Justice, follow all of the required procedures to evict the tenant and get a judgment. It doesn’t take long to realize this judgment is only as valuable as the tenant’s ability to pay. In addition, trying to track down the tenant to collect on this judgment is costly and time-consuming. What you might not realize is a landlord in Pennsylvania can attach a tenant’s wages directly from his or her paycheck to pay the judgment, but doing so requires planning at an early stage.

Pennsylvania law allows a landlord to attach ten percent (10%) of the net wages from a tenant’s paycheck. The Prothonotary will contact the tenant’s employer who will send the check for the attached wages to the Prothonotary, which passes on the money to the landlord and reduces the judgment.

This process is the most reliable method for getting paid, however, getting it right requires some extra cost and planning. First, in order to attach a tenant’s wages the landlord must know where the tenant works. There are certain steps a landlord can take to increase his or her chances of having this information down the road, such as using a standard application form requesting the information in addition to a plain language lease, and updating the tenant’s file at every renewal.

Second, you should consider hiring an attorney at an early stage when the tenant defaults under the lease. Although many landlords are probably experienced in handing their own District Justice hearings, the wage attachment provisions require certain service of the complaint and some district justices use a judgment form that, if not filled out correctly, may prevent wage attachment.

Finally, an attorney experienced in wage attachment filing is necessary to ultimately attach the tenant’s wages. The Prothonotary requires a specific packet of documents to be filed, including certain notices to the tenant and the tenant’s employer, recording the judgment in the Court of Common Pleas from the District Justice office, and filing the praecipe to attach the wages. If done correctly this extra cost will end up paying for itself through the continuous attachment of wages until the judgment is paid in full.

Being prepared can increase the chances that judgments against tenants will be satisfied in the future and can also lower the cost and time associated with collection. In addition to correctly following the process to attach wages, make sure you’re using a plain language lease preapproved by the Attorney General. A District Justice hearing creates a forum for the tenant to contest the validity of the lease. The Plain Language Act requires certain language be used regarding tenant’s rights.

Landlords often avoid using an attorney to assist with lease preparation or collection. While it can save money upfront, it can cost more in the long-term. An attorney experienced in landlord/tenant issues can provide valuable guidance on these and other issues.