Thinking of suing someone in Suffolk County small claims court? Small claims court was intended to help people file lawsuits in an affordable, efficient, and user-friendly manner. However, it is understandable that people are still hesitant to file a small claims lawsuit if they do not know how the process works. In this guide, we break down the steps of how to file a small claims lawsuit in Suffolk small claims so you feel prepared to file your small claims lawsuit.
Common Types of Suffolk County Small Claims Lawsuits
Wondering if you can bring a small claims lawsuit in Suffolk County small claims court? As long as there is not a better court to handle your lawsuit you can sue in Suffolk county small claims court. For example, if you want to start a lawsuit to evict someone you would need to go to Housing Court in Suffolk County because that is the court that handles evictions.
Here are common types of small claims lawsuits filed in Suffolk County small claims court:
You lent your roommate rent money and they won't pay you back.
You move out of your Riverhead apartment and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit.
Someone keyed your car and now they won't pay for the damages to your car.
You paid a pool technician to come to Southampton and work on your backyard pool but they never show up.
You own a small business in Hampton Bays and you have clients with outstanding and past due invoices.
You entered into a contract with your neighbor and they broke the contract.
Someone damaged your Amityville house and they refuse to pay to fix the damages.
A towing company towed your legally parked car.
You are a landlord and own a rental unit in Babylon and your tenant refuses to pay rent.
You gave someone a loan and they won’t pay back the loan amount.
Note that you cannot sue someone in any Suffolk small claims court to force them to do something or return your property. This is because in Suffolk small claims court you can only sue for the amount of money owed to you. For example, if you went to a bike repair shop in Southold and the bike repair shop damages your bike, you can sue for the amount of money it will cost to fix your bike, but you cannot force the bike repair shop to fix the damages.
Suffolk Small Claims Limits
The small claims “limits” determine how much you can sue for in Suffolk County small claims.
There are two types of small claims courts in Suffolk:
Town and Village Courts
The main difference between a district court and a town or village court is the amount you can sue for.
In Suffolk County district courts, the maximum you can sue for is $5,000.
In Suffolk County town and village courts, the maximum amount you can sue for is $3,000.
What happens if I am owed more than what I can sue for in Suffolk County small claims?
There are other courts that take lawsuits for more than $5,000 in Suffolk County so you may want to consider filing your lawsuit in another court if you are suing for more than the small claims amount. However, Suffolk County small claims court is faster, more efficient, and more affordable than 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.
Suffolk County Small Claims Court Locations
Suffolk County District Court, 1st District Court, *NIGHT COURT
3105 Veterans Memorial Highway
Ronkonkoma, NY 11779
Suffolk County District Court, 2nd District Court
30 East Hoffman Avenue
Lindenhurst, NY 11757
Suffolk County District Court, 3rd District Court
1850 New York Avenue
Huntington Station, NY 11746
Suffolk County District Court, 4th District Court
Veterans Memorial Highway
North County Complex Building 158
Hauppauge, NY 11788
Suffolk County District Court, 5th District Court
3105 Veterans Memorial Highway
Ronkonkoma, NY 11779
Suffolk County District Court, 6th District Court
150 West Main Street
Patchogue, NY 11772
Remember, the maximum amount of money you can sue for in a Suffolk District Court is $5,000.
There are also dozens of town and village courts in Suffolk that handle small claims; use the New York court’s website to locate a specific town or village court in Suffolk County. Remember, in Suffolk town and village courts, you can only sue for $3,000.
How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue For?
In Suffolk small claims court, when you sue someone you aren’t supposed to walk away winning more than what you are owed. Furthermore, at the hearing, the judge will ask you how you calculated how much you are owed so be prepared to show the judge evidence of how much you are owed.
Here are some tips for calculating how much to sue for:
Use receipts or invoices. For example, if you own a small business in Riverhead and one of your clients owes you $1,000 for services rendered you can use the invoice you sent your client at the hearing to explain how you calculated the amount you are suing for.
Use estimates. For example, if someone scratched your parked car, you may need an estimate from a mechanic estimating how much it will cost to fix the scratches.
How Much Does it Cost to Sue in Suffolk County Small Claims?
If you are an individual suing another individual or business, suing in one of the six district courts 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 (corporation or LLC) suing an individual or business, the cost to file is $25 plus postage for each individual or business being sued. These are known as commercial claims.
The cost to file in a Suffolk County town or village court ranges from $10-$15 so check with the specific town or village court you wish to file in.
If you are low-income and cannot afford to pay filing costs, the state of New York has a waiver, unfortunately, called Poor Person Relief. You can apply for this waiver to cover your court fees. Call the court you are going to file in to confirm the application procedure as some judges require different proof to decide on your request.
Is it Worth it to Sue Someone in Suffolk County Small Claims?
When deciding if to sue someone in Suffolk County small claims court look at it as a cost v. benefit.
Here is how some of our clients measure the cost v. benefit of going to small claims:
Cost. Spending $20 to get back $3,000 is very affordable.
How soon will you find out whether you won? After your small claims court hearing, you can expect to have a decision from the judge within a couple of days but it could take around 2 months. Time is money and the sooner you find out if you won the sooner you can have your money judgment in hand.
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 the time or the money. It is about making sure others do not get harmed the same way they did.
Statute of Limitations and Suffolk County Small Claims
Is there a deadline to sue someone in Suffolk County small claims? Yes, the deadline is called the statute of limitations. The deadlines range between 3-6 years and are the same for a small claims lawsuit as for other types of lawsuits in New York. For example, suing someone for property damage and suing someone for money owed have two different statute of limitations.
Here are some common questions about the statute of limitations:
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 your lawsuit because it is not the clerk who decides whether the statute of limitations has passed. The judge is the only person who will make a decision if it is too late to pursue your lawsuit. If it is too late, 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 state code for your type of claim, or (3) let the judge decide at the hearing.
You should not wait to file your Suffolk County small claims lawsuit. Here is why:
If you make a mistake, you may need to refile your lawsuit again and your second lawsuit may miss the statute of limitations.
You will start to lose your evidence the more you wait.
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 Suffolk County Small Claims?
Here are some steps you can take before you file a Suffolk County small claims suit:
Ask the other party to pay you back.
Figure out where to file the lawsuit.
Determine who needs to sue (the "claimants").
Determine who you need to sue (the "defendants").
Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit
Ask the other party to pay you back
If you are an individual filing a lawsuit, you are not required to ask the other party to pay you back before filing your lawsuit. However, you should consider doing so anyway as you may come to an agreement without having to file a lawsuit. An effective way of asking for your money back is by sending a demand letter.
Here are at least two good reasons why you should ask for your money back in the form of a demand letter:
When you send your demand letter you are taken more seriously by the other party than if you were to verbally ask them to pay you back.
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 are a corporation suing in Suffolk County small claims court there are special rules you need to be aware of:
You are required to mail a demand letter 10 days before filing.
Include a copy of your demand letter with your complaint form and have a notary certify that you sent the demand letter.
Figure out in which court to file your Suffolk County 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 Suffolk County district courts, the other party must live, work or have an office in Suffolk County. Additionally, if the other party is in the town of Babylon, Brookhaven, Huntington, Islip, or Smithtown, you can file in any of the six district courts.
There is an exception for when you are suing a landlord. When the party you are suing is 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.
Here is the relevant code for Suffolk County District Courts “...the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular
employment within a district of the court in the county, or where the claimant is or was 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 a district of the court in the county.” Uniform District Court Act (UDC) Chapter 565, Article 18.
If the other party lives, works, or has a place of business in Riverhead, Southold, East Hampton, Southampton or Shelter Island, you must file your claim in the Justice Court (a town or village court) in that town.
Here is the relevant code for Suffolk County town or village courts, “...the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular employment within the municipality where the court is located, or where claimant is or was 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 municipality where the court is located.” Uniform Justice Court Act (UJC) Chapter 898, Article 18.
Figuring out where to file is not an easy process. Here are some questions we often get from clients.
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 Suffolk County to be sued in Suffolk County.
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 claimant is normally the person or business filing the lawsuit. 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.
If you have any doubts as to who should be included in the lawsuit 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 roommates moved out of a rental unit in Brookhaven. When all of you moved in you had to pay a $1,500 deposit. Your landlord refuses to return the security deposit. Since you and your roommates are being denied your security deposit the judge will want to make sure you are all part of the lawsuit.
You were driving your brother’s car and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $2,000 to fix the car. Your brother should be included in the lawsuit since they are the registered owner.
Determine who you need to sue (the “defendants”).
The defendant is the person or business being sued. To figure out who to include ask yourself, who is responsible for what happened to me?
Here are some tips for determining who you need to add:
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
In preparing to take someone to Suffolk small claims court, you want to make sure that you have the correct information for the person or business you are suing.
Suing an individual in Suffolk County small claims:
You will need their full legal name and their Suffolk home, office, or work address.
What happens if I don't have the address of the person I am suing? You will need to find this information before suing them. Use 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 Suffolk County small claims:
We know suing a business in small claims court can be complicated. The problem arises when people don't spend the time figuring out the correct information to list on their Suffolk County small claims lawsuit.
You need to narrow down a business’s official legal name before suing them in Suffolk County small claims. The official legal name is the name the business used to incorporate their business. The reality is that many businesses are not incorporated (they don't need to be), which means you are suing an individual and not a business. For example, you paid ABC Mechanics to fix your vintage car. ABC Mechanics damaged your vintage car instead of fixing it so you decide to sue them in Suffolk County small claims court. You first need to determine whether ABC Mechanics is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Mechanics.
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 Suffolk County Small Claims Court
Here are the 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Suffolk County:
Prepare the lawsuit
File the lawsuit
Serve the lawsuit
Prepare for the hearing
We break down each one of these steps below.
Preparing your Suffolk County small claims lawsuit
If you are suing an individual in any of the six Suffolk County District Courts, you will need to properly fill out the Suffolk County District Court Complaint Form.
If you are a business suing another business in any of the six Suffolk County District Courts, you will need to properly fill out the same form as above but make sure to follow the correct commercial claim instructions in the link above.
Filing your small claims lawsuit
You can submit the Suffolk County small claim forms in person at the courthouse you are filing in.
Make sure to take proper payment with you to pay the court fees. Most courthouses in Suffolk County take cash or money orders but check with the specific courthouse you are filing in before you go.
How to serve your Suffolk County 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 Suffolk County small claims court hearing:
Research the law. Research the law surrounding your claim to better assist you in presenting your case. At this stage, you may consider consulting with 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. For example, if someone broke a contract you had with them include in your evidence the contract if it was in writing.
Prepare to present your case in court. At the hearing, 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.
People Clerk can help you organize your evidence for your Suffolk County 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 Suffolk County Small Claims?
A lawyer can represent and assist you with your Suffolk County small claims lawsuit. 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. Having a lawyer or not shouldn’t discourage you from proceeding in small claims court on your own.
As a side note, 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 Suffolk County, the other option you have outside of small claims is mediation.
What is mediation and how does the process work?
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.
Suffolk County courts offer free mediation for certain cases including small claims cases.
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