Has your landlord failed to return your security deposit?. For example:
- Your landlord kept your entire $2,500 security deposit.
- The deductions to your security deposit were more than $125 and your landlord didn't provide you with copies of the receipts for the deductions.
- Your landlord stopped answering your emails about your security deposit.
If you would like to file a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit check out our guide for Security Deposit small claims lawsuits in San Francisco, CA.
In this article, learn how to take a landlord to small claims court:
- What is small claims court?
- Where can I file my Security Deposit small claims lawsuit?
- How long do I have to file a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit?
- How much can I sue a landlord for in small claims?
- What are the small claims filing fees for a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit?
- What form do I need to prepare a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit?
- What happens after the Security Deposit small claims lawsuit is filed?
- How does serving a small claims lawsuit work?
- How to win my small claims case against a landlord?
- The Small Claims Hearing
What is small claims court?
- If you have a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit in San Francisco, California, small claims court is a court where you can sue for $10,000 or less.
- 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.
- Small claims court was created as a court where you can get your money quickly and affordably.
Where can I file my small claims lawsuit?
If your landlord has failed to return your security deposit, you can sue your landlord in the county where the rented unit is located in or in the county where your landlord lives. If the unit is located in San Francisco, CA or if your landlord lives in San Francisco, CA, then the court that corresponds to your lawsuit may be San Francisco County Superior Court.
San Francisco County Superior Court
Civic Center Courthouse
400 McAllister St
San Francisco, CA 94102
Remember, it isn’t always about which courthouse is the closest to where you are located or the courthouse nearest to San Francisco, CA, but where you can sue the landlord.
Please keep in mind that the court may update this information at any time and may change the cities that correspond to a particular courthouse. This information is not a substitute for legal advice.
How long do I have to file a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit?
Do not wait to file your small claims court lawsuit! If you have a small claim in San Francisco, CA, you only have a set period of time to file your lawsuit. Think of this as a deadline (called the statute of limitations). Once the deadline is reached, you may not be able to file your Security Deposit small claims lawsuit.
In general, if your landlord failed to return your security deposit, you have between 2-4 years to file a small claims lawsuit.
Keep in mind that the more you wait, the harder it is to gather all your evidence for your lawsuit.
How much can I sue a landlord for in small claims?
This is also known as the small claims limit. If you have a Security Deposit small claim in San Francisco, CA, you can sue for $10,000 or less.
There is no minimum amount you can sue for.
What are the small claims filing fees for a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit?
The short answer is that it depends on how much you are suing for. If you have a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit in San Francisco, CA here is how much you will pay to file:
- If you are suing for $1,500 or less, then your filing fee is $30.
- If you are suing for more than $1,500 but less than or equal to $5,000, then your filing fee is $50.
- If you are suing for more than $5,000 but less than or equal to $10,000, then your filing fee is $75.
Keep in mind that if you qualify for a waiver of your court fees, you don’t pay court filing fees.
What form do I need to prepare a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit?
If you have a Security Deposit small claim in San Francisco, CA, you will need to prepare the Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-100).
Keep in mind that you may need to prepare additional forms depending on your particular case needs.
What happens after the Security Deposit small claims lawsuit is filed?
After your Security Deposit small claims lawsuit is filed, the landlord has to be served.
How does serving a small claims lawsuit work?
An adult other than yourself, has to deliver a copy of the small claims lawsuit to the landlord.
Here is more information on serving a small claims lawsuit:
- You need an address for the landlord.
- You are also able to serve the landlord by going to the landlord’s home and giving the lawsuit to someone who lives with them OR by going to the landlord’s work and giving the lawsuit to someone who is in charge.
- Once the the landlord is served, the person who did the serving needs to prepare the Proof of Service (SC-104) and deliver it to the court.
- Here is an example, if the landlord lives in San Francisco, CA, you would have an adult go to their house and provide them a copy of the lawsuit. Once they have delivered a copy of the lawsuit to the the landlord, then they would complete the Proof of Service (SC-104) and file it with the court.
Can I hire someone to serve my small claims lawsuit? Yes! If you need assistance serving a small claims lawsuit in San Francisco, CA, we can help!
How to win my small claims case against a landlord?
Evidence! Evidence is the key to winning a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit.
If you have a Security Deposit small claims lawsuit in San Francisco, CA, here are some examples of what type of evidence you may need:
- Your rental agreement.
- Any communications with your landlord.
- Pictures of the unit when you moved in and pictures of the unit when you moved out if you have them.
The Small Claims Hearing
When will the small claims hearing be?
If you have a small claims dispute in San Francisco, CA, the hearing will likely be scheduled within 30 - 60 days from when you file the lawsuit.
How do I prepare for a Security Deposit Small Claims Court Hearing?
- Research the law. If you are unsure about your Security Deposit lawsuit, conduct research about the relevant laws that apply to your case or consult 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. The judge will then ask the other party for their side of the story.
- 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 person you are suing).
What is a small claims hearing like?
Give yourself plenty of time.
You do not want to be late for your hearing. Give yourself plenty of time for parking and navigating the courthouse.
Look for your courtroom.
- Make sure to arrive at your courtroom early. Once you arrive at the courtroom make sure your evidence is organized and use the restroom is needed.
- Once the courtroom is opened, the court clerk, sheriff, and judge will go through what to expect. You will be sitting in a room with other people who have filed small claims cases. You will get to watch the cases before yours. Make sure you are in the courtroom when your case is called!
What happens if both you and the landlord show up to the small claims hearing:
- Right before the hearing, the judge will ask you and the landlord to show each other the evidence each of you has brought.
- Once it is your time to present to the judge, make sure to give the judge any evidence you have brought with you.
- The Judge will ask you why you are suing the landlord.
- Then the landlord will get to present their side of the story.
- The hearing will last around 15 minutes.
- Very rarely will the judge tell you if you have won right away. Usually, the judge’s decision is mailed to you (normally takes a few weeks or less).
What happens if the landlord does not show up to the small claims hearing:
- You still have to prove your case.
- As long as you have properly served the landlord your hearing will still move forward with or without them.
What happens if YOU don’t show up to the small claims hearing?
- Your lawsuit will be dismissed without prejudice which means that you can still refile your lawsuit later on if the statute of limitations has not passed.
Small Claims Mediation near San Francisco, California.
Some small claims courts offer free mediation. If you have a small claims dispute near San Francisco, CA you may be able to mediate your case for free before the hearing.
- What is mediation? Mediation is a meeting between both the plaintiff (the person suing) and the defendant (the person being sued) conducted by a neutral third-party (a mediator). The parties will meet with a mediator, discuss their case, and try to reach a mutually beneficial solution. Both parties must agree to mediation and it cannot be forced on them.
- When will mediation occur? The court clerk, judge, or sheriff will announce if there are mediators available that day. Usually, the judge will tell the audience that if you opt for mediation, you can try to mediate the case while other hearings are being conducted. If you finish the mediation early, then you get to 'skip the line' and your case is processed faster.
Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?
- Attorneys are not allowed to represent parties at the initial hearing. If the defendant appeals the case, then attorneys are allowed to represent the parties at the appeal hearing.
- You will not be able to hire a lawyer to represent you at the initial small claims court hearing.
Learn more about Security Deposit small claims lawsuits here.
If you have a small claims lawsuit in San Francisco, CA we would love to help you throughout the small claims process.