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Have a dispute with Essex Property over your security deposit, early termination, or rent overcharges? Now what? You have several options, including suing Essex Property in Small Claims Court.
In this article, learn about:
What to do before suing Essex in California Small Claims Court.
How to write a Demand Letter to Essex Property Trust.
Small claims court limits.
How to file a small claims lawsuit against Essex Property.
California Small Claims Costs.
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.
Essex Apartments (also known as Essex Property Trust) is one of the largest owners of rental real estate in California with thousands of tenants and multiple properties across Northern and Southern California. It manages its properties through a series of LLCs and other business entities. We have created a list of options for what to do when you face a dispute with Essex Apartments.
Speak with the Property Manager
The first thing to do when a problem arises is to reach out to the property manager for your rental unit. They are sometimes referred to as community managers by Essex Apartments. They may even be the same person that gave you a tour of the property before you signed a lease. However, the property manager's ability to make decisions will sometimes be limited and you may need to escalate the situation. If your property manager is unhelpful in resolving the matter, then it is time to go a different route.
Send a Demand Letter
A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests.
For example, you could request a refund and explain why you are requesting a refund.
If you eventually decide to sue in California small claims court, you are required to first request your money or property back before you can file the lawsuit. While you can request your money or property back orally, it is recommended you do so in writing in the form of a demand letter.
What to include in the demand letter?
Unsure of what to include in your demand letter to Essex Property.
Here are a few suggestions:
Give them a few days to respond (usually about 7 to 14 days).
If your problem with Essex Property relates to your security deposit, you can also use the California Court's security deposit demand letter-writing tool to help you write the demand letter.
Where to Send the Demand Letter
Once you have drafted your demand letter to Essex Apartments, where should you send it? You can email or mail a copy of the letter to the leasing office. You can also send another copy through Essex Properties online "contact us" form. You can also mail one to Essex Properties agent for service of process (see the section on service of the process below).
Small Claims Court
If Essex Apartments ignored your demand letter, what next? You can sue Essex Apartments in small claims court. But first, some background on small claims court in California to determine if it is right for you.
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. If your dispute with Essex Apartments is about your security deposit, early termination penalties, or rent overcharges, then a small claims court would be able to handle your dispute.
Small Claims Court Limits
To be able to file a small claims court lawsuit in California, you are capped at the amount you can sue for, also known as "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:
Filing fees (see above) $30- $75
Serving Costs can range from $0-$75 per person you sue.
If you win, you can request that the losing party pay for your court fees and serving costs.
Who to Sue in Small Claims Court
As we previously mentioned, Essex Apartments manages its properties through a series of LLCs and other business entities. To know which is the correct entity to sue, you need to pull up a copy of your lease. Usually, on the first page of the lease, you will find the correct entity name under "landlord's name" or "owner's name." When you begin to fill out your small claims court paperwork, you will list this entity as the "defendant."
Starting a Small Claims Court Lawsuit Against Essex Apartments
Step 1: Fill out "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court" (Form SC-100)
This form starts the California Small Claims Court lawsuit process.
It is also known as the "complaint" or "claim."
This is the first document you need to file if you are suing someone. Download here.
The form will ask you who the agent for service of process is. Using the entity name you found on your lease for Essex Apartments, you can search for the Agent for Service of Process on the California Secretary of State's Website.
Step 2: File "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court"
Each California Small Claims Court has a different procedure for filing. You have to check with your local small claims court whether they allow filing in-person, by mail, online, or by fax. Or we can file your case for you!
Step 3: Serve Essex Apartments
Once you file your California small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify Essex Apartments that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). You must serve Essex Apartments at least 15-20 days before the small claims court hearing. There are several ways you can serve Essex Apartments including by having a friend serve, hiring a process server, hiring the sheriff, or through the court clerk. We can help you with serving Essex Apartments!
The Small Claims Court Hearing
Once you file your case, you will get a hearing date scheduled anywhere between 20-70 days later. During this time, you may have Essex Apartments call you to try and settle the case.
To prepare for your small claims court hearing:
Research the law. If you are unsure about your case, conduct research about the law. You can also consult an attorney.
Prepare your evidence. For example, your lease with Essex Properties, any emails, 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 you why you are suing. The judge will then turn to the Essex Apartments representative and ask why they should win the case. Small Claims Court hearings usually last around 15 minutes.
Get your receipts for costs ready. For example, any filing fees and any process server costs. Make sure to let the judge know that you would like to be reimbursed for costs. Generally, whoever wins the case can be reimbursed for "reasonable 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).
Essex Property cannot have an attorney at the small claims court hearing
Attorneys are not allowed to represent you or the person you sued at the initial hearing.
If the person you sued appeals (meaning they lost and want the judge to decide again) then attorneys are allowed to represent the parties at the appeal hearing.
Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila holds a juris doctor degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.