This week’s tip includes some pointers to make the process of going to small claims court easier for tenants. Court can often be an intimidating place – whether you are there as a plaintiff or a defendant. However, by preparing yourself and becoming familiar with Small Claims Court, it can become less intimidating and relatively easy to use. You can read more complete details about Small Claims Court by following this link. This packet is a great source of information for anyone who is filing a lawsuit or has one filed against them.
What is Small Claims Court all about? Small Claims is a department of the District Court where you can sue, or be sued, for matters related to money only, not to exceed $5000.00. There are no attorneys present there, but you may have witnesses testify on your behalf. There is a small filing fee, generally under $40, that you need to pay to get started. Small Claims is usually a faster process than other courts. You do not have to be a U.S citizen in order to use Small Claims Court and there are often interpreting services available at your request. Before appearing in front of the judge, both parties are offered to resolve their matters through an optional mediation process at no additional cost.
Steps to take before going to court:
- One of the most important things to do when suing your landlord in Small Claims Court is to serve them appropriately. There are specific procedures for giving someone proper notice that you are filing a lawsuit against them. By not serving them correctly, the court may not be able to hear your claim. Each county has specific rules about how you file suit and how to give proper service, so be sure to check with the court clerk in the district where you intend to proceed with the lawsuit.
- Prepare your case by gathering any supporting documents that you may have such as: your lease agreement, communications in writing, pictures, video footage, receipts, bank statements and witnesses. Have several copies of all your documents in addition to the originals.
- Contact your witnesses to see if they will be available to appear in court. You may also want to talk to each witness ahead of time about the situation you will be addressing in court. Write out an outline for yourself with important points you want to cover when you present your case in front of the judge.
- You may also contact the district court and ask if you may watch other people’s hearings in Small Claims Court days ahead of your own hearing to get a more concrete view of how cases are handled.
The day of your hearing you may want to arrive a few minutes early, have all your documents organized and have proof that you have served your opponent appropriately. For information about outcomes, what happens if you win, and how you can get the money the person owes you, along with many other questions related to this matter, this Small Claims packet is a great reference tool. You may also want to contact an attorney to discuss your case before court. As mentioned above, an attorney cannot represent you in Small Claims but it can be useful to get legal advice in preparing your case. Check with your local county Bar Association about FREE legal assistance that may be available to you.
For information about your rights as a tenant, please see our website.
The information contained in this blog post or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.