Concerned debtors sometimes ask me if their judgment creditors can come into their home and take all their furniture and other stuff. Debtors and prospective debtors are not going to like this answer: Yes they can.
Florida courts have permitted creditors to go through a debtor’s home and inspect their belongings for the purpose of organizing a sheriff’s levy on the debtor’s things. To make things more scary, there is a case which permits the creditor have the sheriff break into the house by force with a “break order” ex-parte, meaning without notice. Of course, the debtor can assert exemptions, including in the case of a married debtor, the tenants by entireties exemption. However, in the case of husband and wife joint judgment debtors there is authority for break orders without notice into the debtor’s homestead to levy upon the joint debtor’s things.
I’ve talked with creditor attorneys who occasionally use break orders to attack joint marital debtors or unmarried single debtors. The creditor attorneys use this tactic primarily for intimidation purposes. No creditor expects to recover significant money from the sheriff’s public sale of a debtor’s used furniture.
In most collection cases, creditors do not pursue a debtor’s private belongings in their house. Not only is the money recovery very small but the creditor has to pay for transportation and storage which are expensive. A creditor could be held liable if they seize furniture which belongs to a third party- a debtor’s family member or a boyfriend/girlfriend, for example- or furniture which is exempt from levy and execution.
If you are subject to a large judgment from an angry and motivated creditor you must prepare yourself for attempts to intimidate you with levy on non-exempt household property. To defend against this collection device it helps to make the creditor aware of any third party ownership interests or available exemptions applicable to your household property. There are cases that require third party ownership and exemptions to be litigated prior to levy.