August 2, 2007
LANDLORD AND TENANT—PROCESS FOR COLLECTING OVERDUE RENT
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You asked for an explanation of the (1) process a landlord must follow to collect overdue rent from a tenant, including whether the state has a program to help the landlord collect it, and (2) centralized small claims system.
Many landlords mistakenly believe that an eviction judgment against a tenant for nonpayment of rent in Housing Court also serves as a judgment for overdue rent. Although the judgment is based on the fact that the tenant did not pay rent, it is not a means for collecting past due rent. Instead, the judgment enables the landlord to reclaim possession of his property from a former tenant who refuses to leave the premises. However, a landlord can file a motion for use and occupancy while the eviction proceedings are on-going. Once the motion is filed, the court can order a tenant to pay the last agreed-upon rent to the court during the pendency of the proceedings (CGS § 47a-26b).
Landlords who want to collect overdue rent from a tenant or former tenant who refuses to pay can file a lawsuit (complaint) in Superior Court. Connecticut does not have a program that helps landlords collect overdue rent.
Generally, once the lawsuit is filed, the respondent (person the landlord is suing) has an opportunity to file an answer (response to the allegations in the complaint). Once the court receives the answer, it sets a date for a hearing. The court enters judgment after the hearing. If the judgment is not satisfied (i.e., the past due rent is not paid), the landlord can ask to have the judgment executed. If the respondent does not file an answer, the court can enter a default judgment against him or her.
If the amount owed is $5,000 or less, the landlord can file the lawsuit in small claims session of Superior Court, which was centralized on May 15, 2006. The new centralized small claims office allows claimants, including landlords, to file small claims matters in one centralized location.
Recognizing that processing small claims matters is time consuming and labor intensive, the Judicial Branch, according to staff, centralized small claim filings to (1) address staffing shortages in many courthouses, (2) raise the priority given to these cases by removing them from Geographical Areas courts where criminal cases receive top priority because of public safety concerns, (3) streamline operations to better serve customers, (4) make the process uniform, and (5) permit the branch to automate the filing process and eventually permit small claim writs to be filed electronically.