Guide to Queens Small Claims

Claudia Diaz - New York - September 4, 2022

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Small claims court allows individuals and corporations to sue for smaller claims in an affordable, and efficient way for a variety of different cases. As a small claims court mediator I saw people file claims against landlords, corporations, and service providers. This is because in Queens county small claims court you can sue a person or corporation for up to $10,000. Small claims court allows individuals and corporations to litigate their claims without the need for a lawyer or many of the other formalities of regular court. 

When you sue in small claims court you can only sue for money. This means that when you bring your case to Queens small claims court you can sue for money but the court cannot force the person you are suing to do something or return your property. If that is what you are seeking then small claims court may be the wrong court for you. 

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

Queens Small Claims Courts Locations

Queens Small Claims (Queens County Small Claims)

89-17 Sutphin Boulevard Jamaica, New York 11435

Small Claims Court Clerk Phone Number: (718) 262-7123

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

Common Types of Queens Small Claims Lawsuits

We always get the question, can I sue someone in Queens small claims? Yes, as long as there isn't a better court to handle your lawsuit. For example, you can’t use Queens small claims court to evict someone as there is a special court for evictions called Housing Court. 

Here are common types small claims lawsuits filed in Queens County:

  • You live in a rental unit in Astoria and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit.

  • You lent someone money and they won't pay you back.

  • Someone hit your car and now they won't pay for the damages to your car.

  • A towing company caused damage to your car and won't pay to fix it.

  • A company won't give you a refund.

  • You are having a dispute over expenses with your roommate and they refuse to pay.

  • You are suing your ex-employer for unpaid wages. 

  • You have a breach of contract case against a contractor who was supposed to work on your home. 

How Much Can I Sue for in Queens Small Claims?

This is also known as the "small claims court limits." In Queens small claims, you can sue for a maximum of $10,000. 

You cannot sue someone to force them to do something or return your property back. For example, if a mechanic damages your car, you can sue for the amount of money it will cost to fix your car (but not to force them to fix your car). 

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

You may want to consider filing your lawsuit in regular court. However, Queens 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. You also need to make sure you can prove the amount you are claiming to the 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 someone hit your car and you spent $3,000 getting your car fixed, you would be able to show the judge the receipt from the mechanic.

  • Use estimates. For example, if you are a landlord that owns a building in Flushings and your tenant caused damage to the floors, 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 Queens 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 may vary from judge to judge. Generally, you will have to go in person to the courthouse to make a statement under oath.

  • Unfortunately, this waiver is called the Poor Person Relief, but don't allow the name to drive you away if it is something that you need.

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

Ultimately, taking someone to Queens small claims is a cost v. benefit analysis.  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 Queens are delayed, but as courts work through their backlog hearings are being scheduled faster. 

  • Time spent. This one can be tricky 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 small claims lawsuit from home as we take care of the logistics. 

  • Justice. For some, it isn't about time or money. It is about making sure the other person understands that what they have done is wrong so that they don't continue to do the same to others.

Statute of Limitations & Queens Small Claims

In general, many statutes of limitations range between 3-6 years and are the same for a small claims lawsuit as for other types of lawsuits in Queens.

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.

  • 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.

We suggest you do 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 Queens Small Claims?

Here are some steps you can take before you file a Queens County 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 Queens, it is common practice for you to send a demand letter to the other party before you file your suit. 

You might be wondering how to demand payment. You can demand payment either verbally or in writing. If you demand payment in writing there are some advantages. First of all, you will be taken more seriously when you send the demand in the form of a letter. Also, you will be able to include a copy of the demand letter as part of your evidence to show a judge that you gave the other party an opportunity to respond and resolve the dispute before going to 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

Unfortunately, it isn't about which court is closest or most convenient to you in many situations. 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 Queens small claims court, the other party must live, work or have an office in NYC. If you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located as long as the small claims lawsuit is regarding the rented unit. So you will likely need to sue in the NYC small claims court that is 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 New York City to be sued in New York City.  

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 Queens small claims. Deciding who needs to be included in a lawsuit as a claimant is normally an easy determination. Ask yourself, 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 roommate gave your landlord a $5,000 security deposit for a rental unit in Long Island City. You both moved out and your landlord has not returned the security deposit. Both you and your roommate are owed the money so the judge will want to make sure you both are part of the lawsuit.

  • You were driving your mom's car and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $3,000 to fix the car. Your mom should be included in the lawsuit since she 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, an essential step is making sure 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 person I am suing name or address? You will need to find this information before suing them. Try searching 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. The trickiest part for most people is trying to figure out the correct information to list on the small claims lawsuit.

  • You need to narrow down a business’s 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 bought a new stove at ABC Home Stuff for your house. ABC Home Stuff delivered the new stove but it did not work and they refused to refund you, so you decide to sue them in small claims. You first need to determine whether ABC Home Stuff is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Home Stuff.

  • 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 Queens Small Claims Court

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

  1. Prepare the lawsuit

  2. File the lawsuit

  3. Serve the lawsuit

  4. Prepare for the hearing

We break down each one of these steps below.

Preparing Your Queens 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). 

Filing Your Small Claims Lawsuit

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

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

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

In Queens, you currently don’t have the ability to file your case directly with the court online at this time. 

How to Serve your Queens 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 Queens small claims court hearing:

  • Research the law.

    It is good practice to read up on the law that supports your claim. At this stage, you can choose to consult an attorney if you would like.

  • Prepare your evidence.

    Make sure to collect and organize all potential evidence that can be used to support your claim; it is your responsibility to prove to the judge why and how much the other party owes you. This can include invoices, contracts, receipts, 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. Be aware of the procedures so you are ready for your day in court. 

People Clerk can help you organize your evidence for your Queens 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 Queens small claims?

In Queens, small claims court you are allowed to 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. However, this should not discourage you from continuing to pursue a small claims case on your own.

Note that as you have a choice to hire a lawyer, so does the other party in your case. 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 Queens, 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 an effort to see if the parties can 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. 

  • Queens 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.

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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