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I am involved in a situation where a former housemate has left my sharehouse in the Netherlands and owes me €3000. This person now lives in the US.

The facts:

  • I have evidence they owe me this money, including an itemised list they agreed to and messages from them to me insisting they will pay me the agreed amount.

  • They are an American citizen with EU citizenship (not from the Netherlands but another western European country)

  • They have a bank account in the Netherlands although I don't think it has more than €1000.

  • We have a previous relationship in Australia, where they have another bank account containing more than €3000.

  • They have far more than €3000 in bank accounts in the US.

  • It has been four months since they left the Netherlands.

  • It has been one month since their last message telling me they would send me the money (no contact from then since then)

Is it possible for me to take this person to a small claims court? If so where would I do this? It's unlikely they will return to the Netherlands so I'm not sure if it would be worth doing it in that particular jurisdiction.

If not, do I have any recourse anywhere or anyhow?

  • Do you know which US state this person now resides in, as the rules of small claims court differ on a state by state basis. – sharur May 16 '18 at 18:40
  • That sucks. In practical terms you might not find it worthwhile due to the impossibility of enforcing the debt overseas, as well as the difficulties serving them with notice. – davidgo May 17 '18 at 5:03
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You could probably sue them in either the Netherlands or in the U.S., but to do so, you would need to secure service of process upon them to confer jurisdiction on the court. In all likelihood, if a Dutch court was used, you would get a default judgment.

Then, you would need to try to enforce the judgment some place where the defendant had assets. You could probably easily seize the Dutch account with a Dutch judgment if it wasn't closed as soon as the Defendant got word of the suit and before judgment entered.

In any other country, you would have to look to their law regarding the recognition of foreign judgments and follow the requirements of that law to convert your judgment into a judgment in a place where the defendant has assets. Recognition of foreign judgments for rent or other monies owed is usually more easily obtained than recognition of judgments for torts (e.g. damages owed from a car accident). In some U.S. states, this could be very straight forward and not involve a full fledged new trial on the merits, in other U.S. states, particularly if the Dutch judgment was obtained by default, it might be necessary to retry the case from scratch in the U.S.

I do not know what the process is in Australia, but I suspect that it is similar.

The trouble is, that even though you could get a valid judgment in the Netherland and enforce it against the assets there, it would probably not be cost effective to pursue collection in the U.S. or in Australia for that amount of money. Add a zero, it might marginally make sense to collect. Add two zeros to the amount owed and collectible, and it would clearly make sense to pursue.

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Considering the already mentioned problem of the debtor draining his Dutch account as soon as he's aware of a lawsuit, you'd need to apply for "conservatoir beslag". This is a Dutch procedure which freezes the disputed assets. While it's legally not too complex (you need to show a reasonable case to the judge), you'd probably still want a lawyer. After that, it's probably straightforward: you get a defaulted judgement when the debtor doesn't show up, with which you claim the frozen assets.

But yeah, check with a lawyer how much it's going to cost. Most of the potential €1000 would be eaten in fees just in the Netherlands.

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