Guide to Brooklyn Small Claims

Claudia Diaz - New York - September 4, 2022

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New York’s small claims courts are known as “The People’s Courts” because you can sue individuals and corporations for up to $10,000. Small claims is intended for individuals and corporations to sue for smaller claims without the need for lawyers in a quick and affordable way. As a small claims mediator in New York City I saw a variety of cases come in ranging from a tenant suing their landlord for the return of a security deposit to individuals suing service providers for breach of contract. 

Note that in Brooklyn small claims court, you can only sue for money, if you were looking to force the person you are suing to do something or return your property you may be in the wrong court. 

Ready to sue someone in Brooklyn small claims court? In this guide, we break down the steps of how to file a small claims lawsuit in Brooklyn.

Kings County Small Claims Courts Location

Brooklyn Small Claims (Kings County Small Claims)
141 Livingston Street 
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Small Claims Court Clerk Phone Number: (347) 404-9021

Small Claims Court Clerk Office: Room 905 

Hours of operation: Monday - Friday: 9 AM - 5 PM 

Common Types of Brooklyn Small Claims Lawsuits

Are you wondering if you can sue someone in Brooklyn (Kings County) small claims? The answer is yes as long as there isn't a better court to handle your lawsuit. For example, you can’t use Brooklyn small claims court to evict someone as there is a special court for evictions called Housing Court. 

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

  • You are suing to have car expenses reimbursed after a car dealer refused to fix your car that was under warranty.

  • Your landlord will not return your security deposit.

  • You lent someone money and they will not pay you back.  

  • Breach of a contract for service, for example, a contractor did not do the work on your brownstone as per a signed contract. 

  • Damage to personal property, like to your car if someone hit it and does not want to pay you back. 

  • A company will not give you a refund for a broken product.

  • You hired a mechanic to repair your car and they did a bad job.

How Much Can I Sue for in Brooklyn Small Claims?

This is also known as the "small claims court limits." In Brooklyn small claims, as in the other boroughs, you can sue for a maximum of $10,000. 

You cannot sue someone to force them to do something or return your property back. For example, your boss fires you and they are a company with offices in the Prospect Park neighborhood. You cannot sue your ex-employer in Kings county small claims court because you want the court to compel them to re-hire you. However, you can sue for unpaid wages.

What happens if I am owed more than what I can sue for in Brooklyn small claims?

Let us say you were fired from your job and you are suing for unpaid wages of $20,000. You may want to consider filing your lawsuit in regular court because the max you will be able to recover in small claims court is $10,000. However, if you are suing for unpaid wages that total $10,000 small claims is faster, quicker, and more affordable than filing your lawsuit in 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. 

How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue for?

Calculating how much to sue for in small claims can be difficult. In small claims, you will have to calculate how much you are owed and need to be able to prove those amounts and claims to the judge. 

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

  • Use receipts. For example, if someone hit your car and you spent $3,000 getting your car fixed, you would be able to show the judge the receipt from the mechanic.

  • Use estimates. For example, if you are a landlord and own a building in Park Slope and one of your tenants caused damage to the floors, you may have to get an estimate from a contractor to see how much it will cost to fix the floors.

How Much Does it Cost to Sue in Brooklyn Small Claims Court?

If you are an individual suing another individual or business, 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 a business suing an individual or business (these are known as commercial claims), then you will pay $25 plus postage. 

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

  • In order to file, you should call the court clerk’s office as the requirements vary from judge to judge. Generally, you will have to go in person to the courthouse to make a statement under oath.

  • This waiver is unfortunately named the Poor Person Relief, but don't allow the name to drive you away if it is something that you need.

Is it worth it to sue someone in Brooklyn Small Claims?

Ultimately, taking someone to Brooklyn small claims is a cost v. benefit analysis.  Here is how some of our clients measure the cost v. benefit of going to small claims:

  • Cost. Spending $20 to get back  $1,000 is very affordable.

  • How soon will you find out whether you won? Most small claims hearings in Brooklyn are delayed, but as courts work through their backlog hearings are being scheduled faster. 

  • Time spent. This one can be tricky because our court system is outdated and very frustrating. 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 while we take care of the logistics. 

  • Justice. For some, it isn't about the time or the money. It is about making sure the other person does not continue to harm or scam others in the future. ‍

Statute of Limitations & Brooklyn Small Claims

When do you have to file your lawsuit? As soon as possible because you do not want to miss the statute of limitations deadline. In general, many statutes of limitations range between 3-6 years and are the same for a small claims lawsuit as for other types of lawsuits. 

Here are some common questions about the statute of limitations:

  • What is the statute of limitations? It is a deadline set by the New York legislature that establishes how long you have to sue someone.

  • 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 the lawsuit because it is not the clerk who decides whether the statute of limitations has passed. Said differently, only a judge can make a decision on whether the statute of limitations has actually 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 City code, (3) let the judge decide at the hearing.

You should not wait until the last minute to file your small claims lawsuit. Here is why:

  • If you file your lawsuit incorrectly and need to be able to refile your lawsuit, your second lawsuit may miss the statute of limitations.

  • You begin to lose your evidence the more you wait. Many small claims lawsuits have text messages as evidence and if you lose your phone and a backup you won't have access to those text messages.

  • You begin to lose credibility the more you wait. The judge will be curious to know why you waited so long to file your lawsuit if what you are saying is true.

What to do Before You File in Brooklyn Small Claims Court?

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

  1. Demand payment from the person you intend to sue.

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

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

  4. Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit, like the amount you are owed and any relevant dates. 

Demand Payment

Although it is not required in Brooklyn, it is common practice for you to send a demand letter to the other party before you file your suit. 

How do I demand payment? You can demand payment verbally or in writing but consider demanding payment in writing as opposed to verbally to be taken more seriously and to use as evidence later. You can show a copy of the demand letter to the judge so they see you gave the other party an opportunity to resolve the dispute before escalating it to small claims court. 

If you have a commercial claim you may use the New York Court’s e-form if you wish. 

Figure out if Kings County is the right place to file the small claims lawsuit

Unfortunately, it isn't about which court is closest or most convenient to you in many situations. Before going to your nearest 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."

To sue someone in Brooklyn small claims court, the other party must live, work or have an office in Brooklyn. If you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located as long as the small claims lawsuit is regarding the rented unit. So you will likely need to sue in the small claims court that is most convenient to the other party. 

Here is the relevant code section: “... provided that the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular employment within the city of New York, or where claimant is a tenant or lessee of real property owned by the defendant and the claim relates to such tenancy or lease, and such real property is situated within the city of New York” (New York City Civil Court Act (CCA) CHAPTER 693, ARTICLE 1801). 

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 Brooklyn to be sued in Brooklyn.  

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 that they may close your case and you will have to refile 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”)

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

‍When in doubt, it is better to 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:

  • You and your roommate live in a walk-up in Williamsburg and gave your landlord a $4,000 security deposit. You both moved out and your landlord has not returned the security deposit. Both you and your roommate are owed the money so the judge will want to make sure you both are part of the lawsuit.

  • You were driving your mom's car and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $3,000 to fix the car. Your mom should be included in the lawsuit since she is the registered owner. Always include the registered owner of a car if a car is involved in the lawsuit. 

Determine who you need to sue (the “defendants”).

The person or business being sued is called the defendant. Ask yourself, who is responsible for what happened to me?

Here are some tips for determining who you need to sue:

  • 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. The most common mistake we see is suing a property management company and not the landlord in security deposit cases. You want to make sure you sue the person or business listed on your lease or rental agreement as they are the one holding on to 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. 

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

As you are getting ready to take someone to small claims, you want to make sure that you have the correct information for the person or business you are suing.

Suing an individual in small claims:

  • You will need their full legal name and home and work addresses. 

  • What if I do not know the name or address of the person I am suing? You will need to find this information before suing them. Try looking on 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 small claims:

  • After reviewing thousands of small claims lawsuits, we know that suing a business in small claims is tricky. Why? Because most people don't spend the time figuring out the correct information to list on the small claims lawsuit.

  • You need to narrow down a business's official legal name before suing them in small claims. What is an official legal name? This is the name the business has used to incorporate their 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 Movers to move your stuff from Park Slope to Carroll Gardens. ABC Movers never came to pick up your belongings so you decide to sue them in small claims. You first need to determine whether ABC Movers is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Movers.

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

  • 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.

How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Brooklyn Small Claims Court

Here are the 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Brooklyn:

  1. Prepare the lawsuit

  2. File the lawsuit

  3. Serve the lawsuit

  4. Prepare for the hearing

We break down each one of these steps below.

Preparing Your Brooklyn Small Claims Lawsuit

If you are an individual, you will need to properly fill out a Statement of Claim (CIV-SC-50). 

If you are a business, you will need to properly fill out a Statement of Claim (CIV-SC-70). 

Once you prepare the forms, you will need to file them with the court. 

Filing Your Small Claims Lawsuit

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

  • It is good practice to take 2 copies of the form properly filled out.

  • Make sure to take proper payment, the court accepts cash or money order.‍

In Brooklyn, you currently don’t have the ability to file your case directly with the court online at this time. 

How to Serve your Brooklyn 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 mail the lawsuit to the other party. 

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

How to Prepare for your Small Claims Hearing

To prepare for your Brooklyn small claims court hearing:

  • Research the law. It is good practice to read up on the law that supports your claim. At this stage, you can choose to consult an attorney if you would like.

  • Prepare your evidence. Make sure to collect and organize all potential evidence that can be used to support your claim; it is your responsibility to prove to the judge why and how much the other party owes you. This can include invoices, contracts, receipts, etc.

  • Prepare what you will say. 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. 

  • 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.

  • Know the procedures for the small claims court you filed in. Each county may have slightly different procedures. 

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

What accommodations can the court provide?

  • If you or a witness do not speak English well, you can tell the clerk when you file your lawsuit and they will assign an official interpreter to your case.

  • If you need accommodations for a disability, each court has different policies. 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 in Brooklyn small claims?

Yes. You are allowed to have a lawyer assist you and represent you in court. This decision is up to you to make, and although getting a lawyer seems like an obvious decision, it is important to note that legal fees can quickly add up. This shouldn’t discourage you from proceeding in small claims court on your own. 

Remember,  just like you have the choice to hire a lawyer, 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 Brooklyn, your 2 major potential remedies outside of small claims are Online Dispute Resolution or Small Claims Mediation. 

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)

  • ODR is a free service offered by the court. 

  • It is a 24/7 service in which negotiation and conversation can happen between the parties in order to come to a mutual agreement without having to go to court.

Mediation

  • Mediation is a meeting between you, the other party, and a neutral person called a mediator. 

  • Mediation is used as a way for parties to come to a mutually agreeable solution or settlement. The settlement can be for the same amount of money being claimed and can involve other non-monetary agreements between the parties. 

  • Brooklyn small claims courts usually host free mediations. In most instances, the court will send your case to mediation first to see if you can reach a settlement.

  • The mediator's role is to help you and the other party resolve your conflict. If you resolve your conflict, you don’t need to go in front of the judge. 

  • You will still need to bring all your evidence to work through your conflict with the other party and the mediator. 

  • If you do not reach a settlement during mediation you may continue with your court hearing in front of a judge, going to mediation does not remove your rights to go to trial.

Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia is a lawyer and certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts

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