You got your small claims court forms ready, now what? Find out step by step how to file a California small claims court case. (If you are still unclear about what forms you need to file your small claims court lawsuit check out our Quick List of Forms for California Small Claims Court.)
In this article, learn about:
- How to file a small claims lawsuit in California Small claims court.
- Common types of small claims lawsuits
- California small claims court limit
- 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.
Before Filing Your Case
Before filing your small claims court case in California, make sure you review the following:
- 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. You will have to confirm you have done this when you file your lawsuit.
Types of Cases that Can be Filed in Small Claims
As long as there isn't another court better suited to file the lawsuit, then the lawsuit can be filed in small claims. The most common types of small claims lawsuits in California Small Claims Court are:
- Landlord/Tenant disputes over the security deposit.
- Landlord/Tenant disputes over unpaid rent.
- Roommate disputes.
- Disputes over loans.
- Contracts (written and verbal).
- Auto accidents.
- Disputes over auto repairs.
- Disputes over remodeling or home repairs (disputes with contractors).
- Damage caused to property.
- Unpaid bills.
California Small Claims Court Limits
This is also known as the "small claims court limits." In California Small Claims you can sue for the following maximum amounts:
If you are owed for more than the amount you can sue for, you can still sue for the maximum amount allowed but you waive any additional amount over the limit.
Example: You are an individual and you paid $11,000 for someone to paint your home. They didn't paint your home. You can sue in small claims court for $10,000 and waive $1,000.
How long do I have to File a Small Claims case in California?
- Do not wait to file your small claims court lawsuit! After an incident occurs, 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 cannot file your California Small Claims Court lawsuit.
- Read Common statutes of limitations for California County Small Claims Court.
4 Simple Steps:
1. Figure out the filing fees
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
2. Figure out how to pay the filing fees.
Each court has a different procedure. What we have noticed is most courts accept checks made out to "Clerk of the Court." Most courts also accept credit/debit cards.
3. Print Copies.
You will need at least 3 copies of Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-100) one for the court, one for yourself, and one for the Defendant. If you have more than 1 Defendant, you need to print an additional copy for each Defendant. If you do not bring enough copies, most courts charge you to make additional copies.
4. Submit your documents and pay. Where can I do that?
Now you have your documents ready with the correct number of copies and you have calculated your filing fee. Next up is actually filing the case with the court. You can file your case in-person, by mail, or online.
In-Person at the Small Claims Court
You can file your case in person at the small claims court. Once you get to the courthouse, locate the room number for the "Clerk of the Court." Once in the room, locate if they have a special line for small claims cases.
Most small claims courts accept documents to be filed by mail. If your county has more than 1 court, you will want to call your local Clerk of the Court to ask which court accepts small claims court filings. Make sure you mail sufficient copies (a minimum of 3 copies) and a check for the correct amount made out to "Clerk of the Court." You also want to include a self-addressed stamped envelope with the correct number of stamps. This will allow the court to mail you a copy of the stamped complaint. To be on the safe-side, mail your documents as certified mail, return the receipt requested so that you can track if the court has received your documents. You also want to write the "ATTN Small Claims Court Division" in the mailing address.
Some California small claims courts are now accepting electronic filing (known as "e-filing"). The e-filing process is far from uniform in California with each court having a different procedure for e-filing. Go to your local small claims court website to find out if they have adopted e-filing.
Once you file your case, the next step is to notify the person you are suing that they have been sued. This is called "service of process."