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Guide to Albany, NY Small Claims

Camila Lopez - New York Small Claims - July 5, 2024

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Contents

    Considering filing a small claims lawsuit in Albany County? Small claims courts were designed for everyday people to resolve disputes for relatively small amounts of money in an affordable and efficient way. To learn how to file a lawsuit in Albany County, NY, read the article below. 

    Common Types of Albany County Small Claims Lawsuits

    You can bring a small claims lawsuit to Albany County small claims court as long as there is not a better court that can handle your lawsuit. For example, evictions are usually handled in Housing Court.

    Here are common types of small claims lawsuits filed in Albany County small claims court:

    • You and your contractor entered into a contract to remodel your home in Delmar, but your contractor never shows up. 

    • You own a small business in Cohoes, and your client refuses to pay outstanding invoices for services rendered. 

    • Someone crashes into your front gate and damages it, but refuses to pay for the repairs. 

    • You purchased a microwave from a Facebook Marketplace seller, but the microwave doesn’t work as advertised. 

    • You moved out of your Albany rental unit, and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit. 

    • Someone hit your car and refuses to pay for the damages.

    • You gave someone a personal loan, and they won’t pay back the loan amount. 

    • You are a landlord in Watervliet, and one of your tenants refuses to pay rent.

    In Albany County, you cannot sue someone in any small claims court to force them to do something or return your property. You can only sue for money. For example, you hired a plumber to fix your kitchen sink, but they don’t show up. You can sue the plumber in small claims court to get the money you paid for their services back. However, you can’t sue to force them to do the work.    

    Albany County Small Claims Limits

    The small claims “limits” determine how much you can sue for in Albany County small claims.

    There are two types of small claims courts in Albany County:

    • City Courts

    • Town and Village Courts 

    The most important difference between these two courts is the amount you can sue for.

    • In Albany County city court, the maximum you can sue for is $5,000.

    • In Albany County town and village courts, the maximum amount you can sue for is $3,000. 

    If the other party owes you more than the small claims limit, consider filing your lawsuit in a different court. However, Albany County small claims courts are more affordable, efficient, and faster than other types of courts. 

    You also cannot file multiple smaller lawsuits to get around the claim limit. However, if you have multiple claims, you may be able to file two different lawsuits, one for each claim. 

    Albany County Small Claim Court Locations

    There are three City Courts in Albany County that handle small claims cases for $5,000

    Albany City Court - Civil Part

    Albany City Hall

    Room 209

    24 Eagle Street

    Albany, NY 12207 

    Watervliet City Court

    2 - 15th Street 

    Watervliet, NY 12189

    Cohoes City Court

    City Hall 97 

    Mohawk Street 

    Cohoes, NY 12047

    There are also town and village courts in Albany County that handle small claims. Use the New York Courts’ website to locate a specific town or village court near you. Remember, in Albany County town and village courts, the maximum amount you can sue for is $3,000

    If the other party lives, works, or has an office in any of the following cities, towns, or villages, you can sue them in an Albany County small claims court: Albany, Alcove, Altamont, Berne, Bethlehem, Clarksville, Coeymans, Coeymans Hollow, Cohoes, Colonie, Delmar, East Berne, Feura Bush, Glenmont, Green Island, Guilderland, Guilderland Center, Knox, Latham, Medusa, Menands, New Scotland, Newtonville, Preston Hollow, Ravena, Rensselaerville, Selkirk, Slingerlands, South Bethlehem, Troy, Voorheesville, Watervliet, and Westerlo. 

    How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue For?

    Generally speaking, taking someone to small claims isn't meant for you to come out winning more than what you are owed. At the hearing, the judge will want to know how you calculated the amount you are suing for and will ask you to prove your calculations. 

    ‍Here are some tips for calculating how much to sue for:

    • Use receipts. For example, you took your car to a mechanic for repairs. The repairs cost $2,000. When you get your car back from the mechanic and try to turn it on, you find out the car won’t start, and you will need to take your car in for repairs again. You can use invoices and receipts to figure out the total amount the first mechanic owes you. 

    • Use estimates. For example, you hired a landscaping company to landscape your backyard, but while landscaping, they burst a pipe. You may need an estimate from a contractor to see how much it will cost to fix the pipe. 

    How Much Does it Cost to Sue in Albany County Small Claims?

    If you are an individual suing another individual or business in an Albany City Court, then you will pay:

    •  $15 if you are suing for $1000 or less, and 

    •  $20 if you are suing for more than $1000.

    If you are suing on behalf of a corporation, association, or partnership, the cost to file will be:

    • $25 plus postage. 

    • These types of small claims lawsuits are known as commercial claims

    The cost to file in an Albany County town or village court ranges from $10-$15. Confirm any filing fees with the specific town or village court you wish to file in for accurate fees.

    If you are low-income and cannot afford to pay filing costs, you can apply for a waiver of your court fees. 

    • In New York state, this waiver is unfortunately named the Poor Person Relief; however, don’t let this deter you if it is something you need to be able to seek justice in court. 

    • To file for a Poor Person Relief waiver, you should call the court clerk’s office you are suing in. 

    • Different judges require different proof to decide your fee waiver request. For example, the court may ask you to submit additional items to prove you do not have the money to pay your court costs.

    Is it Worth it to Sue Someone in Albany County Small Claims?

    When deciding to sue someone in small claims court, it is really up to the costs versus the benefits in your individualized situation. 

    Here is how some of our clients measure the cost v. benefit of going to small claims:

    • Cost. Besides the cost of actually filing your lawsuit, you should consider other “hidden” costs. By hidden, we don’t mean the court doesn’t tell you about these things. We just mean costs that people don’t usually consider. For example, you may have to travel to the courthouse to be physically present at your hearing. For some, this may require flying to where the courthouse is located. 

    • How soon will you find out whether you won? After your small claims court hearing, you can expect to have a decision from the judge within a couple of days, but depending on the court, it could take a couple of months. 

    • Time spent. It is tricky to calculate how much time you will spend on a lawsuit because of our current court system. You may have to go a few times to the court to file the lawsuit, especially if you need more information or do it wrong. The good news is that with People Clerk, you can prepare and file your small claims lawsuit from home as we take care of the logistics. 

    • Justice. For some, it isn’t about time or money. It may be about deterring businesses from harming others the way they were harmed.  

    Statute of Limitations and Albany Small Claims 

    Statute of limitations, which are deadlines, let you know by when you should file a small claims lawsuit in Albany County. The statute of limitations can range between 3-6 years. The statute of limitations is the same for a small claims lawsuit as for other types of lawsuits in New York. However, depending on the type of claim you bring, the statute of limitations will be different. For example, there will be a different statute of limitations that addresses property damage cases and breach of contract cases.

    Read our article on the New York Statute of Limitations here. 

    Here are some common questions about the statute of limitations:

    • Does my hearing have to be before the statute of limitations? No, but your case has to be FILED before the statute of limitations.

    • Can I still file my small claims lawsuit if the statute of limitations already passed? You will still be able to file your lawsuit because it is not the clerk who decides whether the statute of limitations has passed. The judge is the only person who can decide whether the statute of limitations has passed. If the statute of limitations has passed, the judge will let you know at the hearing and will close your case.

    • How do I get more certainty about the statute of limitations? (1) consult a lawyer before suing in small claims, (2) review the New York state code for your type of claim, and (3) let the judge decide at the hearing.

    • Why should I not wait to file my Albany County small claims lawsuit? There are a couple of reasons you shouldn’t wait to file your lawsuit. (1) You may need more time to refile if you filed your lawsuit incorrectly the first time. (2) You may lose evidence the longer you wait to file your lawsuit. (3)  You begin to lose credibility the more you wait, and the judge may ask you why you waited so long. 

    What to Do Before You File in Albany County Small Claims?

    Here are some steps you can take before you file a small claims suit:

    1. Ask the other party to pay you back.

    2. Decide where to file the lawsuit.

    3. Determine who needs to sue (the "claimants").

    4. Determine who you need to sue (the "defendants").

    5. Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit.

    Consider Sending a Demand Letter

    Individuals filing a lawsuit in Albany small claims court are not required to send a demand letter before filing. 

    However, here are a couple of different reasons you should send a demand letter before filing a small claims lawsuit: 

    • When you send a demand letter, you are likely to be taken more seriously by the other party. Your formal demand letter will signal to the other party you are willing to take legal action to resolve your dispute.  

    • You will be able to include a copy of your demand letter as part of your evidence to show the judge that you gave the other party an opportunity to resolve the dispute before escalating it to small claims court. 

    • By sending a demand letter, you may be able to settle the case outside of court (which means you don’t need to pay court costs!).  

    If you are suing on behalf of a corporation, partnership, or association (known as a commercial claim), and you are suing an individual based on a consumer transaction, there are different rules to follow: 

    • A consumer transaction involves a transaction between you (the corporation, partnership, or association) and an individual for “money, property, or service which is the subject of the transaction is primarily for personal, family or household purposes.” See UCT 1801-A(b)

    • You are required to mail a demand letter at least 10 days before filing. 

    • You may also need to attach a copy of your demand letter with the lawsuit when you file in certain Albany County City Courts. 

    Figure Out in Which Court to File Your Albany County Small Claims Lawsuit 

    Before going to your nearest Albany County small claims court to file your small claims lawsuit, take some time to figure out which court has "authority" over the other party. This is known as "jurisdiction." If you file in the wrong Albany County small claims court, your lawsuit may be rejected, or the judge may close your case. 

    • City Courts. To sue someone in an Albany County city court, the other party must live, work or have an office in Albany County. Also, if you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located in Albany County as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit. See Uniform City Court Act (UCT) Chapter 497, Article 18. 

    • Town & Village Courts. To sue someone in an Albany County town or village Justice Court, the other party must live, work, or have an office in that Albany County town or village. Also, just as with City Court, if you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located in that Albany County town or village as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit. See Uniform Justice Court Act (UJC) Chapter 898, Article 18. 

    Why can't all courts have authority over the other party? Because this is what your elected officials decided was fair. The logic is that it isn't fair for someone without a connection to Albany County to be sued in Albany County.  

    What happens if I file in the wrong small claims court? You will likely still be able to file your lawsuit as this is a decision for the judge to make, which means that you may not find out until the hearing that you filed your lawsuit in the wrong court. This means they may close your case, and you will have to refile it in the right court. This is risky because if the statute of limitations has passed, then you won't be able to win even if you file in the right court the second time.

    Determine Who Needs to Sue (the “Claimants”)

    Generally, the person or business filing the lawsuit is called the claimant in Albany County small claims. Deciding who needs to be included in a lawsuit as a claimant should be an easy determination. Ask yourself, who is owed money? Anyone who is owed money should be included in the lawsuit.

    If you are unsure, include everyone who potentially is owed money and let the judge decide at the hearing. If a judge doesn't think someone should be included in the lawsuit, they will take that person off the lawsuit at the hearing and leave everyone else as part of the lawsuit. Otherwise, a judge may have you refile the lawsuit.

    Here are some common examples we see trip up our clients:

    • You and your roommate just moved out of a rental unit in Cohoes. When you both moved in, you had to pay a $1,000 deposit. Your landlord refuses to return the security deposit. Both you and your roommate are owed the money, so the judge will want to make sure you and your roommate are both included in the lawsuit.

    • You were driving your father’s car, and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $2,000 to fix the car. Your father should be included in the lawsuit since they are the registered owner.

    Determine Who You Need to Sue (the “Defendants”).

    Generally, the person or business being sued is called the defendant in Albany County small claims court. Ask yourself, who is responsible for what happened to me?

    Here are some tips to help you determine who needs to be sued:

    • When in doubt, sue everyone you think is responsible and let the judge decide at the hearing. You don't want the judge to close your lawsuit because even though they think you are right, you didn't sue the right person or business.

    • Security deposit lawsuits. We often see clients sue a property management company and not their landlord in security deposit cases. When suing to get your security deposit back, you want to make sure you sue the person or business listed on your lease or rental agreement as they are the ones holding onto your security deposit, plus anyone else you also think is responsible.

    • Car accident lawsuits. Don't forget to sue the driver that is responsible for hitting your car in addition to the owner of the car, if it’s not the same person.

    Make Sure to Have the Information You Will Need to Prepare the Small Claims Lawsuit

    Prepare for your Albany County small claims lawsuit by making sure you have the correct information for the person or business you are suing. 

    When suing an individual in an Albany County small claims court:

    • You will need their full legal name and their Albany County home, office, or work address. You will need to find this information before suing them, as you will be asked for this information on the forms you need to file to start your lawsuit. 

    • You can’t add a P.O. Box address. You will need an actual street address in Albany county that corresponds with where the person being sued lives, works, or has an office.  

    • Don’t have this information? Use Google, Linkedin, or consider having someone run a report called a "Skip Trace" that looks for their information on different databases.

    Suing a business in an Albany County small claims court:

    • We see many of our clients not take the time to properly figure out the correct information to list for a business they are suing in Albany County small claims. 

    • You need to narrow down a business’s official legal name before suing them in Albany County small claims. What is an official legal name? This is the name the business has used to incorporate its business. The reality is that many businesses are not incorporated (they don't need to be), which means that you are suing an individual and not a business. For example, you paid ABC Window Cleaners to clean the windows in your 3-story home in Westerlo. ABC Window Cleaners never showed up to do the work, so you decide to sue them in Albany County small claims. You first need to determine whether ABC Window Cleaners is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Window Cleaners.

    • Many businesses also do business using a name other than their official legal name. This is called an “assumed name,”"dba," "fictitious business name,” or “trade name.” 

    • Search for a business's assumed name on the Department of State website or search for a business’s dba in the County Clerk’s office in the county where it has an address.

    • Once you have determined the official legal name, you will be able to sue the correct business and serve the correct person on behalf of a business. It is very important you sue the correct legal entity because if you win, you want to be able to collect your money judgment. 

    How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Albany County Small Claims Court 


    Generally, there are about 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Albany County:

    1. Prepare the lawsuit.

    2. File the lawsuit.

    3. Serve the lawsuit.

    4. Prepare for the small claims hearing.

    People Clerk can help you file and serve your Albany County small claims lawsuit. 

    Preparing Your Small Claims Lawsuit 

    To prepare your forms for Albany County small claims, go in person or call the court and ask for the appropriate forms. 

    • If you are filing as an individual, you will need to fill out the small claims forms

    • If you are filing a lawsuit on behalf of a corporation, association, or partnership, you will need to ask for the commercial claims forms

    Once you prepare the forms, you will need to file them with the court. People Clerk can help you file your Albany County small claims lawsuit in any of the Albany County City Courts. 

    File Your Lawsuit 

    You can submit the Albany County small claims forms in person or by mail. 

    • It is good practice to take 2 copies of the form properly filled out but don’t sign them until you are in front of the court clerk. 

    • Make sure to take proper payment. This may be a check, money order, or cash.  

    Serving Your Small Claims Lawsuit

    Once you file your claim with the small claims court clerk, it is up to the clerk to notify the other party that they have been sued (this is called “serving”). The court will serve the lawsuit by mailing the documents to the other party. 

    If the mail comes back as undelivered, you will be able to serve the lawsuit using a friend or a registered process server. You will need to call the court to determine if your lawsuit has been properly served.

    Prepare for the Small Claims Hearing 

    To win your small claims lawsuit, you will need to prepare for your Albany County small claims court hearing. Here are some ways you can prepare for your hearing: 

    • Research the law. Consider researching any laws that may support your claims. For example, if you have filed an Albany small claims lawsuit against your landlord because they refuse to return your security deposit, consider researching security deposit laws in New York. If your claims are more complicated and involve legal issues like negligence or personal injury, consider consulting with an attorney. 

    • Prepare your evidence. Once you have gathered your evidence, make sure to organize it with dates and titles. We have observed many small claims hearings where parties have evidence to show but can’t find which piece supports which claim. Remember, in small claims court, it is your responsibility to prove to the judge why and how much the other party owes you. Save yourself time and trouble at your small claims hearing by using People Clerk’s judge-friendly evidence packet. 

    • Prepare what you will say at the hearing. At the hearing, both parties will be able to present their side of the story to the judge. The judge will first ask the person who filed the lawsuit to tell them why they are suing. The judge will then ask the person being sued why they don’t owe the person who sued them any money. When you address the judge to present your side of the story, start with “your honor” and then give a concise description of the claim at hand. For example, “your honor, I am suing the other party because they damaged my mailbox, and it cost me $1,000 to repair it.” 

    • Bring multiple copies of your evidence. You should bring at least three copies of your evidence. One copy for you, one copy for the judge, and one copy for the other party.

    People Clerk can help you organize your evidence for your Albany County small claims hearing.  

    What Accommodations Can the Court Provide? 

    The New York State Unified Court System provides a number of ADA accommodations and other reasonable accommodations for those who need assistance while pursuing their case in court. For example, if you or a witness do not speak English well, you can tell the clerk when you file your lawsuit that you will need an official interpreter. 

    To find out what can be done for you, make sure to call the court or the clerk and convey your needs, they will tell you what needs to be done in order to accommodate those needs.

    Can I Have a Lawyer Represent Me?

    Yes, a lawyer can represent you in Albany County small claims, or you can also choose to represent yourself. Ultimately, this decision is yours to make, and although getting a lawyer seems like an obvious decision, legal fees can quickly add up. This shouldn’t discourage you from proceeding in small claims court on your own. 

    Note that just like you have the option of hiring a lawyer to represent you, the other party in your case does as well. In the case that both parties decide to have a lawyer represent them, the judge can move the case from small claims to civil court.

    Is Small Claims Court My Only Option?

    In Albany County, the other option you have outside of small claims is mediation. Mediation is a meeting between you, the other party, and a neutral third person called a mediator. 

    How does the mediation process work? 

    • Mediation is used to help parties come to a mutually agreeable solution or settlement. It provides the parties with the opportunity to communicate with each other while the mediator facilitates the conversation. 

    • The mediator is not there to make a decision on your case. You and the other party can come to a settlement only if you wish to. 

    • The settlement can be for the same amount of money being claimed and can involve other non-monetary agreements between the parties. For example, in Albany county small claims court, the court can’t force someone to give you back your property. So if this is something you would like, you can make it a term of your settlement. 

    • Albany County may offer mediation for certain cases. Check with the courthouse you file in to see if your case can be mediated. 

    • You can bring in any evidence you have to the mediation. This is so the mediator can understand your case better and the other party can see why you brought a case against them and why they owe you money. 

    • If you reach a settlement agreement, you don’t need to go in front of the judge. 

    • If you do not reach a settlement during mediation, don’t worry! You can continue with your court hearing in front of a judge.

    Author

    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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