Are you looking to sue someone who owes you money in a California small claims court? For example, if you lent someone money, someone breached a contract with you, or someone damaged your property.
In this article, learn about:
Common types of small claims lawsuits against someone who owes you money
What to do before suing someone who owes you money in small claims
The maximum amount you can sue for in small claims court
How much it cost to sue someone who owes you money in small claims.
How to file a small claims lawsuit against someone who owes you money.
What to expect during a small claims hearing.
Fun fact, lawyers are not allowed to represent you or the person you sue in small claims! This is to even the playing field so that each party has an equal chance of obtaining justice.
Common types of small claims lawsuits against someone who owes you money
Really often we get the question, well can I sue them in small claims? Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits against someone who owes you money:
If you lent someone money, you can sue them in small claims court if they failed to pay you back.
If your landlord didn't return your security deposit, you can sue them in small claims.
If you are owed money because someone hit your car and you had to repair it, you can sue them in small claims court.
If a contractor owes you money because you had to hire someone to fix the bad job they did, you can them in small claims court.
If an auto repair shop owes you money, you can sue them in small claims court.
What to do before suing someone who owes you money in small claims court
Reach Out to the Person Who Owes You Money
The first thing to do when a problem arises is to communicate with the other party. You want to make sure they understand that they owe you money and how much they owe you. Most of the time they will agree to pay you all or most of what you are owed. If they don't pay you, then it might be time to escalate the situation.
Save All Evidence
You want to make sure to save all evidence related to your relationship with the other person. For example, you want to make sure to save:
Any contracts, receipts, invoices.
Written conversations you have had with the debtor (text messages, emails, etc).
Any proof you have of how much they owe you, when they were supposed to pay you, and any partial payments they have made.
Send a Demand Letter
A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests. For example, you could write to the other party to request payment of the debt and explain why it is still outstanding.
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 suggested 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? Here are a few suggestions:
How much money you are owed.
Why you are owed money.
Your contact information.
Where to send payment.
Option to pay using a payment plan.
Option to mediate.
Give them a few days to respond (usually about 7 to 14 days).
Let them know that if they don't respond, you intend to sue.
What is the maximum amount you can sue for?
If someone owes you $10,000 or less, then you can sue in a California small claims court. If you are owed more than $10,000, you can still sue in small claims, but you have to waive any additional amount you are owed.
Here is an example: You are owed $11,000 for a loan you gave to your friend. You would like to sue in small claims but the limit is $10,000. You agree to sue for only the $10,000.
Why would someone agree to waive any amount over $10,000 that they are owed:
Suing in regular court is more expensive, time-consuming, and complicated
You cannot hire an attorney to represent you in small claims court making it cheaper
Hearings in small claims court are scheduled 30-75 days after the lawsuit is filed
How much does it cost to sue in small claims?
It costs between $30-$75 to file a small claims lawsuit.
Once the lawsuit is filed, the person you sued has to be notified that a lawsuit has been filed against them. This is called serving. You can serve for free if you have a friend or family member deliver the lawsuit to the person you have sued or you can pay between
$40-$75 to have the lawsuit professionally served.
If you are on California public benefits like Medi-cal, Food Stamps, SSI, you pay $0 in court fees and serving costs.
Starting the Small Claims Court Lawsuit Against the Debtor
Step 1: Complete "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.
When thinking about who to sue:
If you are owed money because of a personal loan you provided, and the debtor included a cosigner, you also want to include the co-signer as a defendant.
If you are owed your security deposit, you want to make sure you sue the correct legal entity or the individual list as the landlord on your lease.
If you are owed money because someone hit your car, you want to make sure to sue the registered owner of the vehicle.
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 the person you are suing
Once you file your California small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify the person you sued that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). You must serve the debtor at least 15-20 days before the small claims court hearing (sometimes you are required to serve at least 30 days before the hearing). There are several ways you can serve the debtor including by having a friend serve, hiring a process server, hiring the sheriff, or through the court clerk. We can help you with serving the small claims lawsuit.
The Small Claims Court Hearing
Once you file your case, you will get a hearing date scheduled anywhere between 30-70 days later. During this time, the debtor may call you to try and settle the case.
To prepare for your small claims court hearing:
Research the law. If you are unsure about the laws involving your lawsuit (aka why you should win your lawsuit), consult an attorney, or conduct your own research about the law (a quick Google search goes a long way).
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 should win.
Prepare what to say. During the hearing, the judge will ask you why you 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 these 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).
Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?
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 is an attorney, consumer advocate, and certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.