Can a Creditor Take Personal Property in Florida?

The short answer is yes. A judgment creditor can take your personal property to satisfy a judgment. However, this is rarely done for personal possessions in the home.

What personal property can be seized in a judgment in Florida?

A judgment creditor can take any non-exempt personal property you own. This includes furniture, collectibles, and other personal property in your home, your safe deposit boxes, and your financial accounts. However, you may be able to claim exemptions for some of your personal property.

Personal property inside your house

The Florida homestead exemption does not apply to personal property inside the homestead. A judgment creditor can seize all non-exempt personal property inside your home. A creditor must direct the sheriff to seize specific items of personal property. Therefore, a creditor cannot get a blanket attachment against “all the stuff” in the debtor’s house. Creditors cannot break into a debtor’s house and grab property without court permission.

If the creditor identifies non-exempt assets within the debtor’s house, a court may issue a “break order” to assist the sheriff’s seizure of these assets. Some courts will issue break orders without advance warning to the debtor.

Some debtors are surprised when I tell them that the household furnishings and clothing they used on a daily basis are not exempt from their judgment creditors. Some people think that Florida law permits them to own their basic tools of living such as the clothes they wear, their children’s toys, the beds they and their family sleep in. Some assume that the Florida homestead exemption includes things inside the homestead; it does not. A judgment creditor may obtain a court order directing the sheriff to enter your homestead and take whatever they see in the house. The sheriff will then sell the property at public auction. The debtor could buy his own effects at the auction.

Married Couples

In the case of a married debtor, any property owned jointly with his spouse is exempt as tenants by entireties. The problem is that the creditor can order the sheriff to take all the property, and the debtor subsequently has to go to court to claim the entireties exemption. Meanwhile, all of this jointly owned, exempt property, is in the sheriff’s possession. Most judgment creditors do not take furniture and decoration they suspect will be exempt entireties property for two reasons. First, the creditor has to pay for storage and transportation of property they assume will have to be returned to the debtors’ possession, and also because the non-debtor spouse could sue the creditor.

Summary

Many debtors are also surprised to find out that the judgment creditor is not limited to one attack on home property. One of my clients had his belongings taken by the sheriff and auctioned off. During the ensuing months he replaced what was taken. Within a year the creditor and the sheriff were back and they took all his new things he had acquired. The debtor’s mistake was not replacing the furniture and clothes lost the first time with either leased furniture or furniture bought by another family member and then loaned him for personal use.

Jon Alper

About the Author

I’m a nationally recognized attorney specializing in asset protection planning. I graduated with honors from the University of Florida Law School and have practiced law for almost 50 years.

I have been recognized as a legal expert by media outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I have helped thousands of clients protect their assets from creditors.