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Civil process servers play an important role in our legal system by ensuring that each individual has his or her right to due process. Getting the job done, however, can prove to be complicated, especially when process servers are faced with unique challenges along the way. Gated communities have often stymied process servers just trying to do their job as the gates create a physical barrier between themselves and the individual they need to serve. Some defendants know that they are shielded behind the gates of their communities and use that to evade service.
Despite the complications that gated communities can present for process servers, the good news is that there has been some progress on this issue. Some states have put laws on the books to help facilitate getting individuals served, while other states are in the process of creating such legislation. In conjunction with those efforts, veteran process servers have come up with ways that can help you get the job done.
While it is true that there are few states with legislation containing explicit language regarding serving individuals in gated communities, the good news is that legislation has occurred in recent years in states that often prove to be on the forefront of civil process service legislation: California, Illinois, and Florida.
The most recent state to pass legislation relating to gated communities was California — the law became effective January 1, 2017. A few years earlier, Illinois enacted a similar law that states that process servers must be granted entry to a gated community in order to serve process. At the time of publication, aside from California and Illinois, Florida is the only other state to have explicit legislation giving process servers the right to access gated communities in order to serve process. That law was enacted nearly a decade ago.
Over the last few years, lobbyists and legislators alike have worked hard to introduce bills regarding process servers’ legal rights regarding the ability to access gated communities to effectuate service of process. Unfortunately, most of the attempts by lawmakers were thwarted before they could be made into law. Here’s a recap of recent efforts:
Currently, there is no other legislation in progress (or recently defeated) directly relating to granting civil process servers expressed permission to enter gated communities. If there is a bill being considered or other laws already approved regarding this topic that we didn’t address in this post, please let us know!
While the rest of the country, aside from the aforementioned states, has yet to create and sign specific legislation into law that would grant process servers access, there are some laws that may help process servers accomplish the task of effectuating service within a gated community.
For example, in Tennessee, there is a law on the books that prevents anyone from obstructing a civil process server. This can be helpful because if the guard of a gated community refuses to give you access to serve whoever needs to be served within the community, this legislation should support your effort. Often times, simply reminding lay people of the laws (having a printed reference with you always helps!) can get you through the door.
It may be easier to gain access to gated communities if you approach a security guard with your process serving license number or ID, applicable laws, and evidence that you are there to serve papers. Presenting yourself as a professional will deter suspicion and potentially grant you access.
The old adage that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar still holds true. Sometimes politely asking for service (or scheduling service in advance) can get the job done. Not everyone is resistant to service of process, and often times, most folks will be expecting it. If there is an office associated with that community, it may be worthwhile to contact the administrator and let them know to expect you. Again, it is helpful to provide evidence of your intention, as well as your rights as a process server.
We also blew the dust off an old article we wrote way back in 2011 regarding serving individuals in an apartment— you may find our advice helpful as it is still applicable today.
Sometimes, your job for service may turn into surveillance, whereupon you would wait for the individual to exit the confines of the gated community. This would obviously be more time and thus money, so before diving in, it may be worth weighing the pros and cons of doing so. Depending on your availability and licensure, this may or may not even be a feasible option. Contact your client and let them know of the obstacles and potential additional fees for surveillance or stakeouts. Your client may be able to provide you with an additional address such as their place of work. To maintain your client’s trust, offer your potential solution to the problem and be upfront about challenges and prices.
In situations where you cannot gain access, you cannot set up service, or you cannot find any other means to serve the individual personally, you may need to determine whether or not you can substitute serve the guard or property manager. In some cases, you will need to go back and specifically request this of your client to request it from the courts; however, it is an option to get the service completed. If requesting that of your client, be sure to be cognizant of the time requirements for service and stay in communication with your client.
If all else fails, consider using electronic service of process. While it often must be approved in court or by a judge, electronic service of process does not have physical barriers and can be a great alternative. Instead of deeming gated communities “unservable,” try to use technology to your advantage and get the job done.
Process servers around the country deal with gated communities on a regular basis, so contacting your fellow servers can provide unique industry insights on how they serve even the toughest of papers.
Furthermore, consider contacting your state’s civil process service association to see how you can help support efforts to pass legislation. Sometimes something as simple as spreading the word to other process servers and vocally supporting legislation initiatives can help turn a bill into law. Passing legislation to help process servers effectuate service is the ideal way to ensure process servers’ success and further support our industry.
If you need help finding a civil process server who is familiar with the laws in your state, check out our directory of prescreened servers today!
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