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Guide to Travis County Small Claims Court

Camila Lopez - Texas Small Claims - June 10, 2024

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    The Justice of the Peace Courts, also referred to as the Justice Courts, provide an affordable and convenient way for everyday people to initiate small claims lawsuits. In the article below, we'll explore how the small claims process works in Travis County, what you can do before filing a small claims lawsuit, and other options available to help you resolve your dispute. 

    Did you know People Clerk can help you with Travis County small claims? Learn more.

    Travis County Small Claims Quick Facts

    How much can I sue for in Travis County? 

    $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? 

    In-person, or 

    Virtually in some courts. We have witnessed virtual hearings in Travis County firsthand! 

    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 Travis County include:

    • You built an extension to a home in Rollingwood, but the homeowner refuses to pay you for the service you provided.

    • You are a tenant that moved out of your Austin apartment, and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit.

    • Driving through Allandale, someone hit your car, and now they won't pay for the damages to your car.

    • You own a small business in Lakeway, and your customer refuses to pay their outstanding invoices.

    • You are a landlord and own a rental unit in Lago Vista, and your tenant refuses to pay rent.

    Travis County Small Claims Court Locations

    Travis County has multiple courthouses where you can file small claims lawsuits. To ensure you file your case in the appropriate courthouse, you can use this Travis County interactive map to determine the correct court. You can also contact one of the courts (Precincts) listed below to verify that this is where you should file 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) 854-6367

    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) 854-9479

    Justice of the Peace - Precinct 5

    1000 Guadalupe Street, Suite 117

    Austin, TX 78701

    Contact Number: (512) 854-9049

    How Much Can You Sue for in Small Claims Court?

    In Texas, the small claims limit is set at $20,000, this is the maximum amount you can sue for. 

    It is also important to know that in the Texas Justice Courts, you are allowed to ask for more than just the damages. According to Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 500.3, people suing for small claims matters are also able to recover: 

    • civil penalties

    • personal property, and 

    • other relief allowed by law.

    For example, if your ex-boyfriend took the TV you purchased when they moved out of your apartment and still has it, you can file a small claims lawsuit against them to recover your TV

    How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue for?

    Deciding how much you can sue for can be confusing. In general, when you file a small claims lawsuit, you can be awarded what you are owed and potentially court costs and attorney fees. Ultimately, it is up to the judge to decide how much should be awarded for damages. 

    Since the judge will decide, it is important to break down and explain how you calculated the amount of money you are asking for. 

    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 web developer to build a website 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 moving company caused damage to your lawn while transporting your furniture, and you want them to cover the repair expenses, presenting an estimate from a landscaper will help you demonstrate how much you need for the repairs. 

    Costs and Fees for Small Claims Court in Travis County

    The current small claims filing fee is $54. Confirm the filing fees for your court by calling before you file, as the fee may change.  

    What if you cannot afford to pay your filing fees? 

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

    • Call the court where you are filing your lawsuit and ask for an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Costs or a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs

    Small Claims Court Deadlines in Travis County

    The small claims deadlines, also known as the statute of limitations, are important to know. If you don’t file your lawsuit within this deadline, you may be unable to continue pursuing your case in court. Below are some deadlines that are relevant to small claims court. 

    What cases have a two-year statute of limitations?

    • Property Theft 

    • Property Damage

    What cases have a four-year statute of limitations?

    • Fraud

    • Breach of Contract

    Remember, laws are constantly changing and updating, confirm any deadlines by reviewing the appropriate Texas laws. If you have any specific questions about when to file your case, consider consulting with an attorney. 

    It is not recommended that you wait until the last minute to file your Travis County small claims lawsuit. Here is why:

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

    2. 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.

    3. 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 a Travis County Small Claims Court?

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

    1. Consider sending a demand letter. 

    2. Decide where to file the lawsuit.

    3. Determine who needs to sue.

    4. Determine who you need to sue.

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

    6. Consider hiring a lawyer. 

    Consider Sending a Demand Letter

    It is often a good idea to send a demand letter before taking your case to small claims court. Although it may not be necessary for all types of cases, some Texas cases do require a demand letter to be sent before filing a small claims lawsuit. Sending a demand letter can be a helpful approach to resolving your dispute without resorting to legal proceedings. By sending a demand letter, you let the other party know they have a final opportunity to settle the dispute before you file a lawsuit. This approach can save you time and money in the future. 

    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 proper Justice Court location within Travis County. This means you need to file in the correct Travis County precinct

    To sue an individual: 

    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 (office location); or

    • You can sue where the principal office (headquarters) of the corporation, association, or company is located.

    See Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chptr 15, Subchapter E Sec. 15.002 and 15.094

    If you can’t file your lawsuit in Texas, you may want to 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 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. 

    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, 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 Travis County 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 ABC Flowers to install flowers in your backyard. ABC Flowers never show up, so you decide to file a small claims lawsuit against them in a Travis County Justice Court. You first need to determine whether ABC Flowers is a corporation, partnership, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Flowers.

    • 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 a business. This is important because you want to be able to collect any money judgments from the correct business. 

    Consider Consulting With an Attorney 

    You can choose to hire a lawyer to represent you in a Travis County small claims lawsuit or represent yourself. Small claims courts were specifically created to enable individuals to present their cases without the need for legal representation. This is because the nature of small claims cases often makes it impractical and costly to engage an attorney. For example, if you are suing for a $1,500 security deposit, hiring a lawyer could entail an hourly rate of around $250, and their involvement would typically require 3-5 hours, resulting in a total cost of $750-$1,250 for their services.

    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 (ABA) can be another treasure chest of resources and information to help you in your small claims case, even if you choose to self-represent. Aside from having legal information and support, the ABA handles several lawyer referral programs which provide qualified and pre-screened attorneys for hire. To find these referral resources go here and browse your options. 

    Filing a Small Claims Case in Travis County

    Generally, there are 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Travis County:

    1. Prepare the lawsuit.

    2. File the lawsuit.

    3. Serve the lawsuit.

    4. Wait for the other party’s Answer.

    We break down each one of these steps below.

    Did you know People Clerk can help you with Travis County small claims? Learn more.

    Step 1: Prepare the Lawsuit

    To prepare your Travis County 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.  

    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 go to the court you wish to file your small claims lawsuit and file the forms with a court clerk in person. 

    • Online. Some Travis County precincts allow e-filing or electronic filing.

    • By mail. Some courts will allow you to mail in your forms and payment to the courthouse location. 

    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 (an official court paper that states when the hearing will be) that you will have to use to notify the other party that they have been sued. This process of notifying the other party that they have been sued is called serving or service of process

    Who can serve the lawsuit? 

    • Not you. You cannot serve the lawsuit papers yourself. 

    • A process server. A process server is an individual licensed to serve your lawsuit documents. They are experts at serving court documents. 

    • The sheriff or constable. Generally, the court will generate the citation and provide the sheriff or constable in the county with that citation to serve the other party. The fees for this type of service can be found on the courts’ websites. It can get complicated to use the sheriff or constable if you are serving a business or individual that is outside the county you are suing in.  

    Step 4: The Other Party’s 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 defendant’s written response, denying or accepting the claims you made in the small claims lawsuit. 

    You will receive a copy of the other party’s answer. Make sure to review it in detail once you receive it. 

    Optional Step: Discovery

    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 Travis County

    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 law. Generally, it is helpful to be up to date on laws that support your claim. If you have concerns about the claims you want to bring to small claims court, consider consulting with an attorney prior to filing.

    • Prepare your evidence.  To increase your chances of winning your case, it is crucial to organize all your evidence with clear dates and titles, making it easy for you to efficiently present it to the judge. The specific evidence needed for your case will be based on your specific situation but can include invoices, receipts, pictures, etc. For example, in the case of a fender bender, some evidence you might want to have is receipts or estimates of the costs of repairs and any communications between you and the other driver discussing the accident. People Clerk can help you organize your evidence into a judge-friendly packet. 

    • Prepare what to say. The hearing will go by quickly. Knowing what you want to say and how it proves your case will make a major impact on the outcome. You may get nervous if you are not properly prepared and fail to say everything you want to. 

    • Print enough copies of your evidence. You will likely need at least three copies of your evidence (one for you, one for the judge, and one for the other side)

    Make sure to check out our article on 5 Mistakes to Avoid During a Small Claims Hearing.

    Is Small Claims Court My Only Option?

    Besides filing a small claims lawsuit, there are other options for how to handle your dispute. These options include: 

    1. Filing a complaint with a state or other government agency.

    2. 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 

    Mediation is available in most Texas Justice Courts as a form of alternative dispute resolution. Mediation is used to help parties come to a mutually agreeable solution or settlement. It provides the parties with the opportunity 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. For example, Travis County has a Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) in Austin that serves all the people in Travis County and the surrounding Austin areas. This DRC can help you schedule and facilitate mediation. Check with the courthouse you file in to see if the court has mediation available as well.  

    • 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 Travis County small claims? Learn more.

    Author

    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator @ 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.

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