Guide to Manhattan Small Claims Court

Claudia Diaz - New York - September 4, 2022

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As a small claims court mediator that has mediated several cases in the different boroughs of New York I know that small claims court is a user-friendly way for individuals to win their claims. The small claims court system is designed for the people, and it is an affordable and efficient way to sue and recover monetary damages in Manhattan. In Manhattan you can sue for up to $10,000 worth of damages, this is known as the jurisdictional amount. 

It is important to note that you can only sue for money in Manhattan small claims, which means that if you want the court to force the person you are suing to do something or return your property then this may be the wrong court for you. 

Ready to sue someone in Manhattan small claims court? In this guide, we break down the steps of how to file a small claims lawsuit in Manhattan.

New York County Small Claims Courts Location

Manhattan Small Claims (New York County Small Claims)

111 Centre Street New York, NY 10013

Small Claims Court Clerk Phone Number: (646) 386-5484 

Small Claims Court Clerk Rom Number: 322 

Hours of operation: Monday - Friday: 9 AM - 5 PM

Common Types of Manhattan Small Claims Lawsuits

Are you wondering if you can sue someone in Manhattan small claims court? Yes, but so long as there is not a better court to handle your lawsuit. For example, you can’t use Manhattan small claims court to evict someone as there is a special court for evictions called Housing Court. 

Here are common types of small claims lawsuits filed in Manhattan small claims court:

  • You were fired and want to sue for unpaid wages.

  • You hired a service that was not performed or performed badly and want to sue for the amount in the contract.

  • Someone damaged your car and you want to sue for the damages.

  • Your landlord will not return your security deposit.

  • You bought a new appliance for your home but it does not work and the seller refuses to refund your money. 

  • You lent someone money and they will not pay you back. 

  • You are a landlord and your tenant damaged the rental unit and will not pay for the damages. 

How Much Can I Sue for in Manhattan Small Claims?

The amount you can sue for in small claims court is known as the "small claims court limits." In Manhattan small claims, you can sue for a maximum of $10,000. 

Note this is a monetary amount, you cannot sue someone to force them to do something or return your property back. For example, if a car dealer refuses to fix your car, which you have a warranty for, you can sue to have your expenses reimbursed (but not to force them to fix your car). 

What happens if I am owed more than what I can sue for in Manhattan small claims?

You may want to consider filing your lawsuit in regular court. However, Manhattan small claims is faster, quicker, and more affordable than filing your lawsuit in other types of courts. 

You also cannot file multiple smaller lawsuits to get around the claim limit. However, if you have multiple claims you may be able to file two different lawsuits, one for each claim. 

How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue for?

Calculating how much to sue for in small claims can be difficult. When you sue in small claims court you expect to win what you are owed but you need to be able to prove your claim to a judge and how you calculated how much you are owed. 

‍Here are some tips for calculating how much to sue for:

  • Use receipts. For example, if you paid movers to move your furniture and they damaged the furniture how much was the furniture you bought worth? 

  • Use estimates. For example, if your tenant caused damage to the floors in your rental unit in midtown Manhattan, you may need an estimate from a contractor estimating how much it will cost to fix the floors.

How Much Does it Cost to Sue in Manhattan Small Claims Court?

If you are an individual suing another individual or business, then you will pay: 

  •  $15 if you are suing for $1000 or less, and 

  •  $20 if you are suing for more than $1000.

If you are a business suing an individual or business (these are known as commercial claims), then you will pay $25 plus postage. 

If you are low income and cannot afford to pay filing costs, you can apply for a waiver of your court fees: 

  • In order to file, you should call the court clerk’s office as the requirements vary from judge to judge. Generally, you will have to go in person to the courthouse to make a statement under oath.

  • This waiver is unfortunately named the Poor Person Relief, but don't allow the name to drive you away if it is something that you need in order to file a lawsuit.

Is it worth it to sue someone in Manhattan Small Claims?

Is it even worth starting a lawsuit in Manhattan small claims court? For our clients it really comes down to the cost versus the benefit. Here is how some of our clients measure the cost v. benefit of going to small claims:

  • Cost. Spending $20 to get back $1,000 is very affordable.

  • How soon will you find out whether you won? Most small claims hearings in Manhattan are delayed, but as courts work through their backlog hearings are being scheduled faster. 

  • Time spent. This is a tricky question because our court system is outdated and very frustrating. You may have to go a few times to the court to file the lawsuit especially if you need more information or do it wrong. The good news is that with People Clerk, you can prepare and file your Manhattan small claims lawsuit from home as we take care of the logistics. 

  • Justice. For some people, it isn't about time or money. For some, making sure the other person understands the consequences of their actions is as valuable as recovering money. 

Statute of Limitations & Manhattan Small Claims

What is the statute of limitations for claims in Manhattan small claims court? In general, many statute of limitations range between 3-6 years and are the same for a small claims lawsuit as for other types of lawsuits in Manhattan. The statute of limitations depends on what type of claim you are bringing (for example, breach of contract or property damage). 

Here are some common questions about the statute of limitations:

  • What is the statute of limitations? It is a deadline set by the New York legislature that establishes how long you have to sue someone, after this deadline you may not be able to bring that specific claim.

  • Does my hearing have to be before the statute of limitations? No, but your case has to be FILED before the statute of limitations.

  • Can I still file my small claims lawsuit if the statute of limitations already passed? You will still be able to file the lawsuit because it is not the clerk who decides whether the statute of limitations has passed. Said differently, only a judge can make a decision on whether the statute of limitations has actually passed. If the statute of limitations has passed, the judge will let you know at the hearing and will close your case.

  • How do I get more certainty about the statute of limitations? (1) consult a lawyer before suing in small claims, (2) review the New York City code, (3) let the judge decide at the hearing.

You should not wait until the last minute to file your small claims lawsuit. Here is why:

  • If you file your lawsuit incorrectly and need to be able to refile your lawsuit, your second lawsuit may miss the statute of limitations.

  • You begin to lose your evidence the more you wait. Many small claims lawsuits have text messages as evidence and if you lose your phone and a backup you won't have access to those text messages.

  • You begin to lose credibility the more you wait. The judge will be curious to know why you waited so long to file your lawsuit if what you are saying is true.

What to do Before You File in Manhattan Small Claims?

Here are some steps you can take before you file a Manhattan small claims suit:

  1. Make sure you demand payment.

  2. Figure out where to file the lawsuit.

  3. Determine who needs to sue (the "claimants").

  4. Determine who you need to sue (the "defendants").

  5. Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit

Demand Payment

Although it is not required in Manhattan, you can send a demand letter to the other party before you file your suit. The demand letter is essentially you asking the other party for the money they owe you. 

You can demand payment verbally or in writing. It may be worthwhile to demand payment in the form of a letter for many reasons. First of all, you tend to be taken more seriously when your demand is sent in writing. You will also be able to include a copy of your demand letter as part of your evidence to show the judge that you gave the other party an opportunity to resolve the dispute before escalating it to small claims court. 

If you have a commercial claim you may use the New York Court’s e-form if you wish. 

Figure out where to file the small claims lawsuit

When deciding where to file your lawsuit it is not about what is most convenient to you in many cases. Before going to your nearest small claims court to file your small claims lawsuit, take some time to figure out which court has "authority" over the other party. This is known as "jurisdiction."

To sue someone in Manhattan small claims court, the other party must live, work or have an office in Manhattan. For example, if you are a tenant and you are suing for the security deposit that your landlord refuses to return you want to sue where the rental unit is located. So if the rental unit is located in Chelsea you may want to file in Manhattan smalls claims court as this is the court most convenient to the other party. 

Here is the relevant code section: “... provided that the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular employment within the city of New York, or where claimant is a tenant or lessee of real property owned by the defendant and the claim relates to such tenancy or lease, and such real property is situated within the city of New York” (New York City Civil Court Act (CCA) CHAPTER 693, ARTICLE 1801). 

Why can't all courts have authority over the other party? Because this is what your elected officials decided was fair. The logic is that it isn't fair for someone without a connection to Manhattan to be sued in Manhattan.  

What happens if I file in the wrong small claims court? You will likely still be able to file your lawsuit as this is a decision for the judge to make which means that you may not find out until the hearing that you filed your lawsuit in the wrong court. This means that they may close your case and you will have to refile in the right court. This is risky because if the statute of limitations has passed, then you won't be able to win even if you file in the right court the second time.

Determine who needs to sue (the “claimants”)

The person or business filing the lawsuit is normally called the claimant in Manhattan small claims. Simply consider who is owed money. Anyone who is owed money should be included in the lawsuit.

‍When in doubt, it is better to include everyone who potentially is owed money and let the judge decide at the hearing. If a judge doesn't think someone should be included in the lawsuit, they will take that person off the lawsuit at the hearing and leave everyone else as part of the lawsuit. Otherwise, a judge may have you refile the lawsuit.

Here are some common examples:

  • You and your mother are both renters who live together in the East Village. You both gave your landlord a $5,000 security deposit. You both moved out and your landlord has not returned the security deposit. Both you and your mother are owed the money so the judge will want to make sure you both are part of the lawsuit.

  • You park your father’s car outside your house and you witness your neighbor damaging the car. It will cost $3,000 to fix the car. Your father should be included in the lawsuit since he is the registered owner.

Determine who you need to sue (the “defendants”).

The person or business being sued is called the defendant. Ask yourself, who is responsible for what happened to me?

Here are some tips for determining who you need to sue:

  • When in doubt, sue everyone you think is responsible and let the judge decide at the hearing. You don't want the judge to close your lawsuit because even though they think you are right, you didn't sue the right person or business.

  • Security deposit lawsuits. The most common mistake we see is suing a property management company and not the landlord in security deposit cases. You want to make sure you sue the person or business listed on your lease or rental agreement as they are the one holding on to your security deposit plus anyone else you also think is responsible.

  • Car accident lawsuits. Don't forget to sue the driver that is responsible for hitting your car in addition to the owner of the car. 

Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit

As you are getting ready to take someone to small claims, you want to make sure that you have the correct information for the person or business you are suing.

Suing an individual in small claims:

  • You will need their full legal name and address where they live or work.

  • What happens if I don't have the name or address of the person I am suing? You will need to find this information before suing them. Try looking them up on Google, Linkedin, or consider having someone run a report called a "Skip Trace" that looks for their information on different databases.

Suing a business in small claims:

  • After reviewing thousands of small claims lawsuits, we know that suing a business in small claims is tricky. Why? Because most people don't spend the time figuring out the correct information to list on the small claims lawsuit.

  • You need to narrow down a businesses official legal name before suing them in small claims. What is an official legal name? This is the name the business has used to incorporate their business. The reality is that many businesses are not incorporated (they don't need to be) which means that you are suing an individual and not a business. For example, you paid ABC Windows to install new windows in your townhouse. ABC Windows never shows up and does not install the new windows and you decide to sue them in small claims. You first need to determine whether ABC Windows is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Windows.

  • Many businesses also do business using a name other than their official legal name. This is called a "dba" or a "fictitious business name” or trade name. 

  • Once you have determined the official legal name, you will be able to sue the correct business and serve the correct person on behalf of a business.

How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Manhattan Small Claims Court

Here are the 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Manhattan:

  1. Prepare the lawsuit

  2. File the lawsuit

  3. Serve the lawsuit

  4. Prepare for the hearing

These steps are broken down further below. 

Preparing Your Manhattan Small Claims Lawsuit

If you are an individual, you will need to properly fill out a Statement of Claim (CIV-SC-50). 

If you are a business, you will need to properly fill out a Statement of Claim (CIV-SC-70). 

Once you prepare the forms, you will need to file them with the court. 

Filing Your Small Claims Lawsuit

You can submit Manhattan small claims forms in person or by mail. 

  • Common practice is to take 2 copies of the form properly filled out.

  • Make sure to take proper payment, the court accepts cash or money order.

In Manhattan, you currently don’t have the ability to file your case directly with the court online. Check for updates regarding this on the court website 

How to Serve your Manhattan Small Claims Lawsuit

Once you file your claim with the small claims court clerk, it is up to the clerk to notify the other party that they have been sued (this is called “serving”). The court will mail the lawsuit to the other party. 

If the mail comes back as undelivered, you will be able to serve the lawsuit using the sheriff or a registered process server. You will need to call the court to determine if your lawsuit has been served. 

How to Prepare for your Small Claims Hearing

To prepare for your Manhattan small claims court hearing:

  • Research the law. Generally, it is helpful to be up to date on laws that support your claim. If you wish you may consult an attorney on this. 

  • Prepare your evidence. Make sure to have all evidence collected and organized that can help your claim; it is up to you to prove to the judge why and how much the other party owes you. This can include invoices, contracts, receipts, pictures, etc.

  • Prepare what you will say. The judge will first ask the person who filed the lawsuit to tell them why they are suing. The judge will then ask the person being sued why they don’t owe the person who sued them any money. 

  • Bring multiple copies of your evidence. You should bring at least three copies of your evidence. One copy for you, one copy for the judge, and one copy for the other party.

  • Know the procedures for the small claims court you filed in. Each county may have slightly different procedures. For example, in Manhattan cases get called in the morning in  “calendar call,” sometimes there is a second calendar call in case someone was late.

People Clerk can help you organize your evidence for your Manhattan small claims hearing.  

What accommodations can the court provide?

  • If you or a witness do not speak English well, you can tell the clerk when you file your lawsuit and they will assign an official interpreter to your case.

  • If you need accommodations for a disability, each court has different policies. To find out what can be done for you, make sure to call the court or the clerk and convey your needs, they will tell you what needs to be done in order to accommodate those needs.

Can I Have a Lawyer Represent me in Manhattan small claims?

Yes, you can have a lawyer represent you in court. This decision is up to you to make, and although getting a lawyer seems like an obvious decision, it is important to note that legal fees can quickly add up. This shouldn’t discourage you from proceeding in small claims court on your own. 

Consider that just like you have the choice to hire a lawyer, the other party in your case does as well. In the case that both parties decide to have a lawyer represent them, the judge can move the case from small claims to civil court.

Is Small Claims Court my only Option?

In Manhattan, your 2 major potential remedies outside of small claims are Online Dispute Resolution or Small Claims Mediation. 

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)

  • ODR is a free service offered by the court. 

  • It is a 24/7 service in which negotiation and conversation can happen between the parties in order to come to a mutual agreement without having to go to court.

Mediation

  • Mediation is a meeting between you, the other party, and a neutral person called a mediator. 

  • Mediation is used as a way for parties to come to a mutually agreeable solution or settlement. The settlement can be for the same amount of money being claimed and can involve other non-monetary agreements between the parties. 

  • Manhattan small claims courts usually host free mediations. In most instances, the court will send your case to mediation first to see if you can reach a settlement.

  • The mediator's role is to help you and the other party resolve your conflict. If you resolve your conflict, you don’t need to go in front of the judge. 

  • You will still need to bring all your evidence to work through your conflict with the other party and the mediator. 

  • If you do not reach a settlement during mediation you may continue with your court hearing in front of a judge, going to mediation does not remove your right to go to trial. 

Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia is a lawyer and certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts

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