Some of the most common questions about the status of collection files are regarding serving the homeowner: Why does it take so long? I see him at his house all the time; can I just serve him? Why can’t you just leave the lawsuit on the doorstep if she won’t answer the door?
Most collection cases in Colorado are filed in County Court, which is generally a faster and cheaper option than District Court. So, collection cases are subject to the County Court rules, some of which cover service. Here are some of the most common questions about serving collection lawsuits and what the County Court rules do and don’t allow:
Who can serve the lawsuit on the homeowner?
The lawsuit must be served by someone at least 18 years old that is not a party to the case. Additionally, service should not be done by the Association’s attorney, manager, Board Members, or other homeowners in the Association. Because of the requirements for how the documents can be served and the information that must be provided to the Court, it is generally best to use a professional process service company or the sheriff to serve the homeowner. Both the private process server and the sheriff are familiar with who can accept service on behalf of the homeowner, as well as how to serve someone by refusal.
So what actually happens when someone is served?
The process server or sheriff will go to the homeowner’s house and ring the doorbell or knock on the door. When someone answers the door, the process server will confirm the person’s identity and relationship to the homeowner if it is not the homeowner who answers the door. The process server then hands the documents to the person and fills out an Affidavit with a description of the person and their name. The Affidavit is then filed with the Court.
Who can be served for the homeowner?
If serving the homeowner himself, we can serve that person anywhere. For example, the process server can serve the homeowner at work if we can locate that information. The rules allow the process server to serve the documents on a member of the homeowner’s family that is over 18 years old, but that must be done at the homeowner’s house.
For example, if a property is owned by a husband and wife, we could serve the husband at home for both him and his wife. But, if we serve the wife at work, that would only be good service on her, not also on the husband.
What if the homeowner refuses to take the lawsuit documents from the process server?
Colorado provides for this situation. If the homeowner refuses to accept the documents, the process server or sheriff can serve the homeowner “by refusal.” To accurately serve by refusal, the process server must identify the person to be served, tell the homeowner what documents they are serving, offer to deliver the papers to them, then leave the papers in a conspicuous place. The process server then provides all this information in the Affidavit that is filed with the Court, stating that the homeowner was served by refusal. The Court often scrutinizes service by refusal documents, so it is imperative that the process server or sheriff strictly follow the Court’s rules and document exactly what happened in their Affidavit.
What if the homeowner refuses to come to the door?
This can be very frustrating for not only the Board but also the process server and the attorney. Unless the process server can identify the homeowner, which is unlikely, service by refusal won’t be an option. In cases where the homeowner just won’t answer the door, we can’t make them. However, most process servers will do a stakeout for an hourly fee. The process server will wait for the homeowner to come outside and will serve him then. However, this is most effective if the Board knows when the homeowner is likely to be outside. For example, if the homeowner always walks her dogs after work, the process server can get to the house at about 5 pm to minimize the stakeout time.
What is the timeline for getting a homeowner served?
The Court date determines the service deadline. The Plaintiff (the Association) chooses the initial Court date listed in the lawsuit served on the homeowner. The Court date must be no more than 63 days after the date of the lawsuit, so that limits how much time the process server has to serve the homeowner. In addition, the homeowner must be served at least 14 days before the Court date. Therefore, if the lawsuit is drafted on January 1, the latest Court date can be is March 5, and the homeowner must be served by February 19. That gives the process server at most about a month and a half to serve the homeowner. However, that is the ideal situation, and because of Court availability and holidays, the actual time can be closer to one month. During that time, the process server will try several times to serve the homeowner. If service is not made before the deadline, the process server notifies our office with any attempts and what happened, such as the property appears vacant, or he could hear voices inside, but no one would come to the door, etc. Our office will evaluate the process server’s information, and if additional attempts seem likely to result in getting the homeowner served, we will draft a new lawsuit with a new Court date and send it for service again.
Getting a homeowner served with a collections lawsuit can be frustrating for the Board, especially if the homeowner is avoiding service. The more information the Board can provide to us, the more likely we will be to get the homeowner served. Facebook pictures of the homeowner and work information can all be very useful to the process server and increase the chances of getting the homeowner successfully served quickly.
If you have any questions or concerns about the status of any collection matters or about service of collection lawsuits in general, please feel free to contact any of our Altitude attorneys at 303-432-9999 or [email protected].