Westchester County small claims courts help people file lawsuits in an affordable, efficient, and user-friendly manner. Want to sue someone in Westchester County small claims court but worried about the lawsuit process? In this guide, we break down the steps of how to file a small claims lawsuit in Westchester County, New York.
Common Types of Westchester County Small Claims Lawsuits
Wondering if you can bring a small claims lawsuit in Westchester County small claims court? You can sue someone in small claims as long as there isn’t a better court to handle your lawsuit. For example, if you want to evict someone you would need to go to Housing Court in Westchester County as that is the court that handles evictions.
Here are common types of small claims lawsuits filed in Westchester County small claims court:
You lent your ex-boyfriend money and they won't pay you back.
You are a tenant that moved out of your Mount Vernon apartment and your landlord has not returned your security deposit.
Someone hit your car and now they won't pay for the damages to your car.
You paid a roofer to fix your home's roof in Rye but they never showed up.
A towing company towed your legally parked car and refuses to return your car and the belongings inside.
You own a small business in Yonkers and you have clients with outstanding payments that refuse to pay.
You entered into a contract with your neighbor and they broke the contract.
Someone damaged your Peekskill house and they won't pay to fix the damages.
You are a landlord and own a rental unit in New Rochelle 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 Westchester small claims court to force them to do something or return your property. You can only sue for an amount of money owed to you. For example, if you went to a mechanic shop in Scarsdale and the mechanic shop damaged your car, you can sue for the amount of money it will cost to fix your car, but cannot force the mechanic shop to fix the damages.
Westchester Small Claims Limits
The small claims “limits” determine how much you can sue for in Westchester County small claims.
There are two types of small claims courts in Westchester:
Town and Village Courts
The main difference between a city court and a town or village court is the amount you can sue for.
In Westchester County city courts, the maximum you can sue for is $5,000.
In Westchester 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 Westchester County small claims?
If the other party owes you more money than the small claims limit you may want to consider filing your lawsuit in another court. However, Westchester County small claims 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.
Westchester County Small Claims Court Locations
In Westchester County, six city courthouses handle small claims:
City Court of Mount Vernon
Ronald A. Blackwood Building
2 Roosevelt Square North, 2nd floor
Mount Vernon, NY 10550
City Court of New Rochelle
475 North Avenue
New Rochelle, NY 10801
City Court of Peekskill
2 Nelson Avenue
Peekskill, NY 10566
City Court of Rye
21 McCullough Place
Rye, NY 10580
City Court of White Plains
77 South Lexington Avenue
White Plains, NY 10601
City Court of Yonkers
100 South Broadway
Yonkers, NY 10701
Remember, the maximum amount of money you can sue for in a Westchester City Court is $5,000.
There are also dozens of town and village courts in Westchester that handle small claims; use the New York court’s website to locate a specific town or village court in Westchester County. Remember, in Westchester town and village courts, you can only sue for $3,000.
How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue For?
Generally speaking, when you sue someone, you aren’t supposed to walk away winning more than what you are owed. At the hearing, the judge will ask you to show them how you calculated how much you are owed so it is important you are 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. For example, if someone drove their car into your front door and you spent $2,000 on a new door, you should be able to show the judge the receipt for the new door. If you also had a contractor install the new door, add how much you were billed into your claim and produce the receipt at the hearing.
Use estimates. For example, if your neighbor damaged your car while parking next to it, you may need an estimate from a mechanic estimating how much it will cost to fix your car.
How Much Does it Cost to Sue in Westchester County Small Claims?
If you are an individual suing another individual or business, suing in one of the six city 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. These are known as commercial claims.
The cost to file in a Westchester 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, you can apply for a waiver of your court fees where you would pay $0 to file a small claims lawsuit. This is called Poor Person Relief, but don’t let the name of this procedure discourage you. Call the court to confirm the procedure for your court as some judges require different proof to decide on your request.
Is it Worth it to Sue Someone in Westchester County Small Claims?
When deciding if to sue someone in Westchester County small claims court use 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 $2,000 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 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 ensuring 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 and Westchester County Small Claims
Is there a deadline to sue someone in Westchester 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 based on a contract versus suing someone for damaging your property would have a 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.
Don’t wait to file your Westchester 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 Westchester County Small Claims?
Here are some steps you can take before you file a Westchester 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, but you should consider doing so anyway as you may come to an agreement without having to file a lawsuit. You may want to consider sending them a letter when asking them to pay you back. This is known as a demand letter.
Here are two reasons why to send someone 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 Westchester 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 Westchester 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 Westchester County city courts, the other party must live, work or have an office in Westchester County. So you will likely need to sue in the Westchester County small claims court that is most convenient to the other party. There is an exception for when 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.
Here is the relevant code for Westchester City Courts “...the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular employment within 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 the county.” Uniform City Court Act (UCT) Chapter 497, Article 18.
Here is the relevant code for Westchester 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.
Here are some examples of where to file:
Your ex-boyfriend owes you money. Your ex-boyfriend lives in Yonkers. You can sue your ex-boyfriend for the money he owes you in Yonkers City Court.
You want to sue your upstairs neighbor for causing damage to your roof. A contractor comes and checks on your roof and tells you it will cost $3,500 to repair. Your upstairs neighbor lives in Peekskill so you can sue in Peekskill City Court for the full $3,500 it will cost to fix your roof. If you sue in a town or village court, you would only be able to sue for $3,000 and lose out on $500.
You want to sue someone because they caused $3,000 worth of damage to your car. The person lives in the town of Port Chester, so you can sue them in the Town of Rye Justice Court or the City Court of Rye.
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 Westchester County to be sued in Westchester 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 person or business filing the lawsuit is normally called the claimant in Westchester County 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 just moved out of a rental unit in Peekskill. When you both moved in you had to pay a $2,000 deposit. Your landlord refuses to return 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 boyfriend’s car and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $1,000 to fix the car. Your boyfriend should be included in the lawsuit since they are 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 Westchester 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 Westchester County small claims:
You will need their full legal name and their Westchester 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 Westchester County small claims:
We know suing a business in small claims court can be tricky. Why is this the case? Because most people don't spend the time figuring out the correct information to list on their Westchester County small claims lawsuit.
You need to narrow down a business’s official legal name before suing them in Westchester 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 Roofing upfront to install a new roof at your house in White Plains. ABC Roofing never came to install the new roof at your house so you decide to sue them in Westchester County small claims. You first need to determine whether ABC Roofing is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Roofing.
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 Westchester County Small Claims Court
Here are the 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Westchester 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 Westchester County small claims lawsuit
If you are suing an individual in any of the six Westchester County City Courts, you will need to properly fill out the Application to file Small Claims.
In Westchester County, claimants (the person filing) must have a corporation in New York state to file a commercial claim against a business or individual. You will need to fill out the Commercial Claims Application. For example, you are ABC Corporation, a New York corporation, and you want to sue a business based on a commercial transaction. You will need to fill out the commercial claims application form. This commercial claims application form will need to be notarized.
Once you prepare the Westchester County small claims forms, you will need to file them with the court.
Filing your small claims lawsuit
You can submit the Westchester County 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 orders.
How to serve your Westchester 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 Westchester County 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. For example, if someone damaged your fence and a new fence will cost $1,000 to install. Include in your evidence the estimate that states a new fence costs $1,000.
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.
People Clerk can help you organize your evidence for your Westchester 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 Westchester County Small Claims?
Yes. You are allowed to have a lawyer assist you and 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. This 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 Westchester 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.
Westchester 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