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You hired a locksmith for help with your business, car, or home but they didn't provide the service they promised, now what? You have several options including suing in California Small Claims Court.
In this article, learn about:
What to do before suing Locksmith in California Small Claims Court.
How to write a Demand Letter to Locksmith
Small claims court limits.
How to file a small claims lawsuit against Locksmith
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.
Reach out to the Locksmith
The first thing to do when a problem arises is to communicate with the locksmith or their employer. You want to make sure they understand what you believe they did incorrectly or damaged. Most of the time, they will agree to give you a full or partial refund. If this doesn't work, then it is time to escalate the problem.
Save All Evidence
You want to make sure to save all evidence related to your relationship with the locksmith. For example, you want to make sure to take any pictures of the damage and save any written conversations you had with the locksmith.
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 addressed to the locksmith?
Here are a few suggestions:
Give them a few days to respond (usually about 7 to 14 days).
Where to Send the Demand Letter
Once you have drafted your demand letter to the locksmith, where should you send it? California requires that locksmiths are licensed with the Department of Consumer Affairs. To find a locksmiths business address and license number you can run a search on the Department of Consumer Affairs license database. More information on this below.
File a Complaint with the California Department of Consumer Affairs
You can file a complaint against a locksmith on the California Department of Consumer Affairs website. The California Department of Consumer Affairs is in charge of licensing locksmiths. They may be able to investigate a complaint against a locksmith and help you obtain a refund. Both locksmith companies and locksmith employees are required to be licensed. The licensing procedure involves a criminal history background check with the DOJ and FBI and fingerprint registration.
You can also report unlicensed locksmiths on the Department of Consumer Affairs website.
Small Claims Court
If the locksmith ignored your demand letter, what next? In addition (or in the alternative) of filing a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs, you can sue the locksmith 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.
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.
Who to Sue in Small Claims Court
If the locksmith is an employee of a locksmith company, you want to also include the company as a defendant.
Starting the Small Claims Court Lawsuit Against the Locksmith
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. If the locksmith is incorporated as a Corporation or LLC, 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 the Locksmith
Once you file your California small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify the locksmith that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). You must serve the locksmith at least 15-20 days before the small claims court hearing. There are several ways you can serve the locksmith 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 locksmith 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 your case, conduct research about the law. You can also consult an attorney.
Prepare your evidence. For example, your communications, 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 locksmith or their 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).
Lastly, the locksmith cannot have an attorney at the small claims court hearing
Attorneys are not allowed to represent parties at the initial small claims hearing. This is to even the playing field between individuals and big corporations. However, if the locksmith appeals to the case, then attorneys are allowed to represent you or the locksmith 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.