Before you can file a small claims court lawsuit in California, the court requires that you request your money or property back from the person you intend to sue. You will have to confirm you have done this when you file your lawsuit.
In this article, learn about:
- How to Demand Your Money or Property Back
- What to include in the Demand Letter
- Samples of Demand Letters
- How to send a Demand Letter
- What to do if the Demand Letter doesn't work
- Small Claims Court Filing Fees
- Fun fact, lawyers are not allowed at the initial small claims hearing! This is to even the playing field so that each party has an equal chance of obtaining justice.
How to Demand Your Money or Property Back
Requesting your money or property back can be done orally or in writing, but it is recommended you do so in writing. While there is no restriction against demanding your payment or property back via text message, writing a letter can sometimes be very effective. These letters are known as "intent to sue letters" or "demand letters."
Once you have sent a demand letter, keep it for your records. You can bring it to the small claims court hearing and show it to the judge (especially if the person you are suing claims they didn't receive the letter).
Why is a demand letter important?
- Before you can file a small claims court lawsuit in California, the court requires that you request your money or your property back from the person you intend to sue. Demand letters are an effective way of completing this requirement.
- They signal to the person or business receiving it that you are serious about the problem and are willing to spend time and money to get your money or property back.
- When you let someone know that you intend to go to small claims court if they don't return your money or property, it can have a big effect on them returning your money without having to go to court.
What to include in the demand letter?
Unsure of what to include in your demand letter?
Here are a few suggestions:
Give them a few days to respond (usually about 7 to 14 days).
Sample Demand Letters
The California Court has several great templates to use:
- Demand letter to a person or business
- Security Deposit Demand Letter
- Bad Check Demand Letter
- Stop-payment Demand Letter
How to send the letter
It is recommended you send the letter via email and mail. For letters that you mail, consider the following:
- Tracking. With tracking, you will know if the letter reached the person's mailbox.
- Signature Required. When you send a letter with the receiver's signature requested, the postal carrier must hand-deliver the letter and the person must sign for the letter. If you are sending this letter to an individual, it can be difficult for the post office to obtain the signature.
Once the post office attempts delivery 2-3 times, the post office returns the letter to the sender as "undeliverable." We don't recommend sending demand letters to individuals at a home address with a signature required. A signature required mailing does work better when you send the letter to a business that is open during regular delivery hours.
What to do if the Demand Letter doesn't work?
So you sent someone a demand letter and they still don't return your money or property back, now what? It is time to consider filing a lawsuit in small claims court.
Types of Cases that Can be Filed in Small Claims
So long as there isn't another court better suited to hear the case, then the lawsuit can be filed in small claims. The most common types of small claims cases in California Small Claims Court are:
- Landlord/Tenant disputes over the security deposit.
- Landlord/Tenant disputes over early termination of the lease.
- Unpaid rent.
- Roommate disputes.
- Disputes over loans.
- Contracts (written and oral).
- Auto accidents.
- Disputes over auto repairs.
- Disputes over remodeling or home repairs.
- Damage caused to property.
- Unpaid bills.
Small Claims Court Limits
If you are owed for more than the amount you can sue for, you can still sue for the maximum amount allowed, but you will need to waive any additional amount over the limit.
What are the California Small Claims Court Filing Fees?
The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit in California depends on how much you are suing for. You will pay between $30 to $75 to file the lawsuit. If cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees.
What are other costs for Small Claims Court?
In most small claims cases, you can expect to pay:
If you win, you can request that the losing party pay for your court fees and serving costs.
What is a Small Claims Court Hearing Like?
Small claims hearings are meant to be quick and informal. Here is what you can expect:
- Right before the hearing, the judge will ask the parties to show each other the evidence that they have brought with them.
- The Judge will ask the person who is suing why they are suing. The judge will turn to the person who has been sued and ask them for their side of the story.
- The hearing will last around 15 minutes.
- The judge will ask the parties to show him or her the evidence (Invoices, contracts, receipts, etc) they have brought to court that day. Sometimes the judge will keep the evidence, other times you will get the evidence right back.
- Very rarely will a judge tell the parties their decision immediately after the hearing? Instead, the judge will tell the parties that the decision will be mailed to them (usually takes a few weeks to two months or so).
How do I prepare for the small claims hearing?
To prepare for your small claims court hearing:
- Research the law. If you are unsure about your case, conduct your own research about the law or reach out to an attorney.
- Prepare your evidence. Invoices, contracts, receipts, etc. You want to have your evidence organized with titles, dates, and why that piece of evidence is important. All your evidence should be geared towards showing the judge why you are correct.
- Prepare what to say. During the hearing, the judge will ask the person suing why they are suing. If you are being sued, you will be asked why you don't owe the other party money.
- Get your receipts for costs ready. For example, your filing fees and any process server costs. Make sure to let the judge know that you would like to be reimbursed for costs.
- Print enough copies of all your evidence. You will need at least three copies (one for you, one for the judge, one for the other side).