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Have a Small Claims Court Lawsuit in San Francisco County or thinking of filing one?
In this article, learn about common types of small claims lawsuits, how to file a small claims lawsuit in San Francisco County, and more about the small claims process.
Did you know People Clerk can help you navigate San Francisco small claims? Learn more.
San Francisco Small Claims Quick Facts
You may be able to attend your hearing virtually. Judge permission is required.
Are lawyers allowed in small claims court?
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.
* Court filing fees and serving costs are $0 when you qualify for a court fee waiver.
Where is the San Francisco Small Claims Court?
While there are many courthouses in San Francisco, the only one that conducts small claims court hearings is the San Francisco Superior Court, located at the address below:
San Francisco Superior Court
Civic Center Courthouse
400 McAllister St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
The entrance is located on the corner of Polk St and McAllister St.
How Do I Contact the San Francisco Small Claims Court Clerk?
Telephone Hours: Monday - Friday 8:30 am - 4:00 pm.
The San Francisco Small Claims Court Clerk is located on the 1st Floor of the San Francisco Superior Court. Once you pass through security, make a left.
Office Hours: Monday- Friday 8:30 am - 2:00 pm.
Can I File My Small Claims Court Case in San Francisco?
You can always sue an individual in San Francisco County small claims court if they live in San Francisco County. You can always sue a business in San Francisco County small claims court if the business is located in San Francisco County.
You may be able to sue in San Francisco County small claims in other situations. For example:
If you are suing about a car accident that occurred in San Francisco.
If you are suing about property damage to your house that occurred in San Francisco County.
If you have an issue with your landlord returning the security deposit and the rented unit was in San Francisco County, then you would be able to sue your landlord in San Francisco County Small Claims Court (you would also be able to sue your landlord in the small claims court in the county where they live).
What Types of Small Claims Cases Can Be Filed?
So long as there isn't another court better suited to hear the case, then the lawsuit can be filed in small claims. The most common types of small claims cases in San Francisco Small Claims Court are:
Landlord/Tenant disputes over unpaid rent.
Disputes over loans.
Contracts (written and verbal).
Disputes over auto repairs.
Disputes over remodeling or home repairs (disputes with contractors).
Damage caused to property.
How Long Do I Have to File a Small Claims Case in San Francisco County?
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.
Learn more about the common types of statute of limitations in California with our article here.
How Much Can I Sue for in San Francisco County Small Claims?
This is also known as the "small claims court limits." In San Francisco County Small Claims, you can sue for the following maximum amounts:
What are the San Francisco County Small Claims Court Filing Fees?
The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit in San Francisco County 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.
San Francisco Small Claims Court Hearings
When Will the Small Claims Hearing Be?
Once a case is filed in San Francisco Small Claims Court, the hearing will be scheduled
within 20- 70 days.
You must on the person you sued (the "defendant") at least 15 days before the hearing if the defendant lives or resides within San Francisco County. If the defendant resides outside of San Francisco County, you must serve them
at least 20 days before the hearing.
Make sure to file "Proof of Service" (which is discussed in the link above) at least 5 days before the hearing.
How to Prepare for a Small Claims Court Hearing?
To prepare for your small claims court hearing in San Francisco:
Research the law. If you are unsure about your case, consult an attorney, or conduct your own research about the law.
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 are correct.
Prepare what to say. During the hearing, the judge will ask the person suing why they 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 costs.
Print enough copies of all your evidence. You will need at least three copies (one for you, one for the judge, and one for the other side).
What Happens on the Hearing Date?
Give yourself plenty of time.
You do not want to be late for your hearing. Give yourself plenty of time for parking and navigating the courthouse.
Once You Walk into the Courthouse...
Once you walk in, the first thing you will see is airport-like security. You will need to put your belongings through the metal detector. You can bring in laptops and cellphones, unlike some courthouses.
Take the elevators to the 5th Floor. The small claims courtroom is #506.
Once you arrive at the courtroom, locate your case on the paper schedule outside the courtroom door.
There will be a printed list of the cases that have hearings on that day outside of courtroom #506.
You want to locate your case on the schedule. If you don't see your case listed, but you have received notice that your case will be heard that day, you may want to try and speak to the sheriff or clerk in the courtroom. If you are unable to speak to them, go down to the 1st floor to the small claims court clerk.
The doors will likely be locked until right before the hearing.
Make sure to use that waiting time to organize your evidence or go to the restroom.
Once the courtroom is opened, the court clerk, sheriff, and judge will go through what to expect. You will be sitting in a room with other people who have filed small claims cases. You will get to watch the cases before yours. Make sure you are in the courtroom when your case is called!
Small Claims Mediation
San Francisco offers free mediation for small claims court cases. Free mediation for small claims is only available some days of the week.
What is mediation? Mediation is a meeting between both the plaintiff (the person suing) and the defendant (the person being sued) conducted by a neutral third party (a mediator). The parties will meet with a mediator, discuss their case, and try to reach a mutually beneficial solution. Both parties must agree to mediation, and it cannot be forced on them.
When will mediation occur? The court clerk, judge, or sheriff will announce if there are mediators available that day. Usually, the judge will tell the audience that if you opt for mediation, you can try to mediate the case while other hearings are being conducted. If you finish mediation early, then you get to "skip the line," and your case is processed faster.
If both parties show up:
Right before the hearing, the judge will ask the parties to show each other the evidence
that they have brought with them.
The Judge will ask the person who is suing why they are suing.
Then, the person who is being sued will get to present their side of the story.
The hearing will last around 15 minutes.
The judge will ask the parties to show the judge the evidence they brought with them. Sometimes the judge will keep the evidence other times, you will get the evidence right back.
Very rarely will a judge tell the parties their decision immediately after the hearing. Instead, the judge will tell the parties that the decision will be mailed to them (usually takes a few weeks to two months or so).
If only the plaintiff shows up:
The plaintiff (the person who is suing) still has to prove their case. The plaintiff will have to tell the judge why they are suing and provide enough evidence.
If only the defendant shows up:
The case gets dismissed without prejudice (meaning that the plaintiff can still file the case again later on.)
Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?
Attorneys are not allowed to represent parties at the initial hearing. If the defendant appeals the case, then attorneys are allowed to represent the parties at the appeal hearing.
You will not be able to hire a lawyer to represent you at the initial small claims court hearing.
Translators and San Francisco Small Claims Court
If you qualify for a fee waiver with the court, you qualify for a free interpreter. If you do not qualify for a fee waiver with the court, you can bring a friend or hire someone to help you translate.
Access your Small Claims Lawsuit Files Online
Did you know you can view and download filed documents for your Small Claims Court case in San Francisco online? Documents you, the other party, or the court files, will appear in the online case docket.
The online case docket consists of a list of "events" in the case. Each time you, the other party, or the court files a document, a new event is created. You are able to access the small claims court case docket for free.
Did you know People Clerk can help you navigate San Francisco small claims? Learn more.
Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.