Ready to sue in Austin Small Claims?Start Lawsuit
Thinking of filing a small claims lawsuit in Austin, Texas, but don’t know how to? It may feel intimidating, but just know that small claims courts were designed to be the “People’s Court.” Texas Justice of the Peace Courts, also known as the Justice Courts, provide a more convenient way for everyday people to initiate a small claims lawsuit. In this article, we describe the small claims process in Austin, how you can file a lawsuit, and alternative options you can use to resolve your dispute.
Did you know People Clerk can help you with Austin small claims? Learn more.
Austin Small Claims Quick Facts
How much can I sue for in Austin?
$20,000 (including attorney’s fees)
How much does it cost to file a small claims lawsuit?
$0-$54 (free if you qualify for a court fee waiver)
How much does it cost to serve a small claims lawsuit?
$0- $125 (free if you qualify for a court fee waiver)
Can a lawyer represent me?
Yes, you can either represent yourself or have a lawyer represent you.
How can I attend my hearing?
Virtually in some courts.
Is there a deadline by when I have to file my small claims lawsuit?
The statute of limitations are deadlines that let you know by when you need to file a small claims lawsuit.
What are Common Types of Small Claims Lawsuits?
There are many reasons why people choose to sue someone in small claims. Some common small claims lawsuits you can find in Austin include:
You rented out an apartment in Austin and recently moved out. Now your landlord is refusing to return your security deposit.
A towing company towed your legally parked car and refused to return your car and the belongings inside.
Your yard in Tarrytown is surrounded by a fence. Your neighbor cuts a tree onto your yard, breaking the fence on its way down. You sue your neighbor for the cost of the property damage.
Someone broke a contract they had with you.
The new dishwasher you ordered for your home was delivered dented and with scratches. The appliance company will not refund the purchase.
You own a small printing business in Downtown Austin, and your customer refuses to pay their outstanding invoices.
You paid a contractor to build a new driveway in your home, but they never show up.
Austin Small Claims Court Locations
There are several courthouses in Travis County, Texas, called Justice of the Peace Precincts, where you can file small claims cases. If you want to file an Austin small claims lawsuit, you may be able to file it in any of the Travis County locations listed below (Austin is located in Travis County). To determine the appropriate courthouse for your case, you can consult this map provided by Travis County or contact one of the precincts listed below to confirm whether they will accept your case.
Justice of the Peace - Precinct 1
4717 Heflin Lane, Suite 107,
Austin, TX 78721
Contact Number: (512) 854-7700
Justice of the Peace - Precinct 2
10409 Burnet Road Suite 180,
Austin, TX 78758
Contact Number: (512) 854-4545
Justice of the Peace - Precinct 3
8656-B West Hwy 71, Suite 200,
Austin, Texas 78735
Contact Number: (512) 854-6763
Justice of the Peace - Precinct 4
4011 McKinney Falls Parkway, Suite 1200,
Austin, Texas 78744
Contact Number: (512) 854-9478
Justice of the Peace - Precinct 5
1000 Guadalupe Street, Room 112
Austin, TX 78701
Contact Number: (512) 854-9049
How Much Can You Sue for in Small Claims Court?
The maximum amount you can sue for in Texas small claims court is $20,000.
It is also important to know that you are allowed to ask for more than just damages in Texas Justice Courts. According to Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 500.3, people suing for small claims matters are also able to recover:
personal property, and
other relief allowed by law.
For example, if your college roommate took your mini-fridge when they moved out of the apartment, you can file a small claims lawsuit against them to recover the mini-fridge.
Here are some tips for calculating how much to sue for:
Use receipts to show how much you were charged. For example, if you hired a contractor to build a new patio and paid them, but they didn't complete the work, having proof of how much you paid for their services will clearly show the judge why you're requesting that specific amount in your lawsuit.
Estimates from other companies or professionals can help you figure out how much money it will cost to fix your damages. For instance, if a car repair shop caused damage to your front bumper and you want them to cover the repair expenses, presenting an estimate from a mechanic will help you demonstrate how much you need for the repairs.
Small Claims Court Deadlines in Austin
Small claims courts, like regular courts, have deadlines that state by when you need to file your small claims lawsuit. The deadlines are known as the statute of limitations. Below we have listed some common case examples and their deadlines.
What cases have a two-year statute of limitations?
What cases have a four-year statute of limitations?
Breach of Contract
If you don’t file your lawsuit within this deadline, you may be unable to continue pursuing your case in court. Laws are constantly changing, so be sure to confirm any deadlines by reviewing the appropriate Texas laws.
Steps to Take Before Filing a Small Claims Case in Austin
Here are some steps you can take before you file a small claims suit:
Consider sending a demand letter.
Decide where to file the lawsuit.
Determine who needs to sue.
Determine who you need to sue.
Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit.
Consider hiring a lawyer.
Consider Sending a Demand Letter
It is common practice to send a demand letter before filing your lawsuit in small claims court. While it is not required for all cases, in some types of Texas cases, you are required to send a demand letter. Additionally, sending a demand letter can be a great option for resolving your dispute without having to get the court involved. Sending a demand letter informs the other party that they have one more chance to resolve the dispute before you file your lawsuit. This option can save you time and money later down the road.
Here are some other reasons to send a demand letter:
A demand letter signals to the other party that you are serious about the dispute and willing to take action to resolve the problem.
The judge in your case may ask you at your small claims hearing if you sent the other party a demand letter. By sending a written demand letter, there is a record of your attempt to settle that you can demonstrate to the judge.
Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a demand letter? Check out our demand letter tool.
Decide Where to File the Lawsuit
It is important you file your small claims lawsuit in the correct Justice Court locations within Travis County, the county Austin is located in. This means you should file in the appropriate precinct.
To sue an individual:
You can always sue in one of the Travis County precincts where the person you are suing lives. But you may have other options. For example, for contracts, you can also sue in the precinct in the county where the contract was going to be performed. See Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chptr 15, Subchapter E Sec. 15.002.
To sue a business:
You can sue where the event you are suing about happened;
You can sue where the corporation, association, or company has an agency or representative; or
You can sue where the principal office (headquarters) of the corporation, association, or company is located.
You may find that you can’t sue in Texas, if so, review our 50 State Guide to Small Claims to select another state to sue in.
Determine Who Needs to Sue
The person, or business filing the lawsuit is usually referred to as the plaintiff in Texas small claims court.
Deciding who needs to be included in the lawsuit shouldn’t be a hard 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 may be 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.
Determine Who You Need to Sue
The person or business being sued is called the defendant.
Ask yourself, who is responsible for what happened to me or who owes me money?
Here are some tips for determining who you need to sue:
Security deposit lawsuits. When dealing with a security deposit case, it's essential to avoid common mistakes like suing the property management company instead of the landlord. To ensure a successful lawsuit, make sure you sue the person or business listed as your landlord on your lease or rental agreement. They are the ones holding your security deposit. If you believe others are also responsible, you can include them in the lawsuit too.
Car accident lawsuits. You want to make sure to include the driver of the car that is responsible for hitting your car as well as the registered owner of the car (if it is not the same person). For example, I observed a small claims case where a judge asked the party suing for property damage from a car accident why they hadn’t included the owner of the car (the only defendant was the driver).
Please note, if you don't sue the people or businesses responsible for your damages, you may need to file your case again with the right individuals or businesses.
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 court, you want to ensure 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 an address where they can be notified (“served”) of the lawsuit once it has been filed. For example, this can be the address where the individual lives.
What happens if I don't have an address associated with the person I am suing? You will need to find this information before suing them. Try looking on Google, or 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:
Spend the time to figure out the correct business information to list on your small claims lawsuit.
You may want 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 its business. The reality is that many businesses are not incorporated (they may not have to be), which means that you are suing an individual and not a business. For example, you paid T’s Garden and Landscaping to put new grass on your front lawn. T’s Garden and Landscaping does a bad job, so you decide to file a small claims lawsuit against them in a Travis County Justice Court. You first need to determine whether T’s Garden and Landscaping is a corporation, partnership, LLC, or an individual using the name T’s Garden and Landscaping.
Many businesses also do business using a name other than their official legal name. This is called an “assumed name,” “dba," "fictitious business name,” or “trade name.”
Search for a business's assumed name and legal information on the Texas Secretary of State website.
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 the business. This is important because you want to be able to collect any money judgments from the correct business.
Consider Consulting With an Attorney
In Austin, you can choose to represent yourself or have a lawyer represent you in your small claims case. Small claims courts were created so that people without an attorney can bring their cases on their own. Oftentimes, the economics surrounding a small claims case doesn’t make it cost-effective to hire a lawyer. For example, if you are suing over a $2,500 security deposit, a lawyer may charge $250 an hour, and it will take them at least 3-5 hours to handle your case, costing you $750- $1,250 to hire them.
If you would like to consult with an attorney, there are resources that can help make this search simpler:
State Bar of Texas. Using the State Bar of Texas website, you can find a lawyer that can help you with your specific needs. Aside from representation, the State Bar website can provide legal information and other resources you might find helpful.
Austin Bar Association. The Austin Bar Association can be another great resource for information that can help you in your small claims case. They also have a Lawyer Referral Service available for those looking to connect with an attorney.
Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas. The Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas offers free legal assistance in Austin to those who qualify. They also offer additional attorney referrals.
Filing a Small Claims Case in Austin
Generally, there are 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Austin:
Prepare the lawsuit.
File the lawsuit.
Serve the lawsuit.
Wait for the other party to answer.
We break down each one of these steps below.
Did you know People Clerk can help you with Austin small claims? Learn more.
Step 1: Prepare the Lawsuit
To prepare your small claims lawsuit, you will need to fill out the correct forms provided by the court. Usually, the forms you need to fill out will consist of a Small Claims Petition form, but may also include other forms as each precinct has its own requirements.
A small claims petition will ask you (1) who you are suing, (2) why you are suing them, and (3) how much you are suing them for.
Step 2: File the Lawsuit
Most Travis County precincts allow you to file your small claims lawsuit through the following methods:
In-person. You can contact the court you wish to file your small claims lawsuit in and request the forms needed to file a petition. You will then fill out the documents and bring the forms to the county clerk for processing.
By mail. Some courts will allow you to mail in your forms and payment to the courthouse location.
Online. Some Justice Courts have recently implemented an electronic filing service to make the filing process easier.
Also, make sure to double-check how the court accepts payments of filing fees. Most Texas small claims courts accept cash, credit cards, or money orders, but they may not take other forms of payment (and methods for payment may vary depending on how you are filing your case).
Step 3: Serve the Lawsuit
Once you have filed your small claims lawsuit, the court will generate a citation (a court document that states when the hearing will be held). The citation is used to notify the party being sued that they are being sued.
You cannot serve the lawsuit yourself. Instead, you will need to use one of the options below:
A process server. A process server is an individual licensed to serve your lawsuit documents.
The sheriff or constable. Generally, the court will send the citation to a sheriff or constable for them to deliver it for an additional fee. If you are serving a business or individual that is outside the county you are suing in, it may be easier to hire a process server.
Step 4: Wait for the Other Party to Answer
Once the other party has been served, they will have to file an answer with the court 14 days after they were served. An answer is the opposing party’s written response to your claims in the lawsuit. After the answer is filed, you will receive a copy of the response to review.
Step 5: Discovery (optional)
In Texas Justice Court, you are allowed to request documents or information from the other party before your hearing. This is referred to as discovery. See Texas Rules of Civil Procedures Rule 500.9.
Discovery helps you prepare for the hearing so that you can prove your case.
More likely than not, you won’t need to request discovery because you will be able to review the other parties' evidence before the judge gets to see it (generally, there are no surprises, as you see in movies).
So, while discovery is an option, it isn’t something most people rely on in small claims.
How to Win Your Small Claims Case in Austin
The key to winning your small claims lawsuit is in your preparation. Some of the things you may want to consider when preparing your case before the hearing are the following:
Research the process. Before showing up to your hearing, it is important to know what to expect, that way, you are fully prepared. Sights like Texas Law Help, or Texas Court Help are good to review before filing a Texas small claims lawsuit. People Clerk also has helpful guides and articles for other types of consumer and small claims issues that come up often in Texas.
Research the law. If you are not sure about your case, conducting research about the law can help bolster your case and build confidence. If you have concerns about the claims you want to bring to small claims court, consider consulting with an attorney prior to filing.
Prepare evidence. Your evidence is the key to a successful case. Organize your evidence in chronological order and make sure the evidence is clear and legible. For example, if you filed a case against a mechanic for overcharging, you can include the receipt from the transaction. People Clerk can help you organize your evidence into a judge-friendly packet.
Mark the date. It is crucial to get to your hearing on time. You should consider marking the date, time, and location of the hearing on your personal calendar.
Practice what you will present to the judge. Prepare what you will present to the judge by reviewing your evidence and talking points in the manner you plan to present them. Doing so will increase your confidence, comfort, and chances of success on the day of the hearing.
Other Options for Resolving Your Dispute
Besides filing a small claims lawsuit, there are other options for how to handle your dispute. These options include:
Filing a complaint with a state or other government agency.
Participating in a mediation.
File a Consumer Complaint With a Government Agency
In Texas, there are a couple of government agencies that allow consumers to file complaints against businesses and individuals. Below we have included some of the main government agencies that handle complaints.
Texas Attorney General. The Texas Attorney General is the top legal officer in Texas with various divisions. One of the divisions inside the Office of the Texas Attorney General is the Consumer Protection Division. They handle complaints against businesses that are engaging in unfair or unlawful business practices within the state. Learn how to file a consumer complaint with the Texas Attorney General here.
Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, known as the TDLR, is a government agency in Texas that gives out licenses and monitors business practices in Texas. For example, you can file a complaint using the TDLR against an electrician, a barber, licensed breeders, etc. Go here for a comprehensive list of programs licensed and regulated by TDLR. To submit a complaint, use the link here.
Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner. The Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (“OCCC”) regulates the credit industry and educates consumers and creditors in Texas. Some of the businesses regulated by the OCCC are finance companies, pawnshops, payday lenders, and retailers who provide financing for their goods (including motor vehicle and manufactured home dealers). The OCCC also assists consumers with complaints against these businesses if they have experienced fraud, deceptive business practices, misrepresentation, etc. To submit a complaint with the OCCC, call the consumer assistance helpline at 800-538-1579 or submit a complaint online.
Mediation is available in most Texas Justice Courts as a form of alternative dispute resolution. The purpose of mediation is to assist parties in reaching a mutually agreeable solution or settlement. This is achieved by allowing parties to communicate with each other while the mediator facilitates the conversation.
How does the mediation process work?
The mediator is not there to make a decision on your case. You and the other party can come to a settlement only if you both wish to.
The settlement can be for the same amount of money being claimed and can involve other non-monetary agreements between the parties (like payment plans).
Most Texas counties have Alternative Dispute Resolution centers that offer mediation for Justice Court cases like small claims cases. Check with the courthouse you file in to see if your court can mediate your case.
You can bring in any evidence you have to the mediation. This is so the mediator can understand your case better, and the other party can see why you brought a case against them and why they owe you money.
If you reach a settlement agreement, you don’t need to go in front of the judge.
If you do not reach a settlement during mediation, don’t worry! You can continue with your court hearing in front of a judge.
Did you know People Clerk can help you with Austin small claims? Learn more.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia holds a J.D. degree and is a certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts.