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How Small Claims Court Works | NYC

by | Oct 6, 2023 | None | 0 comments

Small Claims Court is a special section of a court where you can sue to settle disputes involving money up to $5,000 or up to $10,000. This article provides an in-depth overview of Small Claims Court in NYC.

What is a Small Claim Case?

A small claims case is a legal proceeding filed in a local court of law. Disputes can include unpaid debts, personal injuries, or damaged property. A small claims case differs from other types of lawsuits because it has much lower filing fees and simplified procedures. It also limits how much money the court can award at the end of the trial. 

How Does Small Claim Court Work in NYC?

The small claims court handles disputes between citizens who cannot resolve their issues through other means. Lawyers are not allowed to represent parties at the hearing. There are no jury trials. Instead, it’s a simplified process where the plaintiff and defendant each offer their side of the case and then go home with a decision from the judge.

Before NYC Small Claims Court

Did you know you have one more option before small claims court? Before filing a claim, you can send a letter demanding payment. Some states, like New York, require that you formally demand payment before filing a case in small claims court.  Demand letters often allow people to resolve disputes outside of court and avoid the time and fees associated with court. If you have yet to try this option, read more about how to write an effective demand letter and how best to send it to the person who owes you money. Alternatively, you can use tools such as JusticeDirect to generate and send a custom demand letter for free and leave the headache out!

Eligibility Requirements

Before filing your small claims case in New York, consider whether your dispute and the parties involved meet the eligibility requirements.

To file a case, you must be at least 18. If you are under 18, your parent or guardian can sue for you. You can only sue someone for money in Small Claims Court. Courts limit the amount you can sue for.

Selecting your court depends on the defendant’s contact with the county. You can utilize the Small Claims Court in the Town or Village of New York where the defendant resides, works, conducts business, or owns your rented property. You can opt for any City Court within the same county. The courts have different limits on the claim amount. Once you identify your county, your court decision will be based on your claim amount.

  • In City Court, you can sue for up to $5,000.
  • In Town or Village Court, you can sue for up to $3,000.
  • NOTE: You can sue for up to $10,000 in New York City.

If your claim is for more than the small claims limit, you can start a civil case in the City Court instead.

Filing a Claim

Once you have selected the appropriate court, you will be ready to start your case. You must fill out and file all the required forms. You must also pay the filing fees associated with filing small claims cases in New York State.

You will most likely be able to find the forms to file your small claims on the court website. You can also go to the Court Clerk in the court to get the court forms. To complete the forms, you must provide all parties’ legal name and street address and describe what happened and why you are suing.

Once you complete your forms, you will file them at the court. You will have to pay a filing fee based on the amount of your claim.

Note: Many courts do not take personal checks or credit cards.

Suing In Claim Amount Filing Fee
City Court $15 up to $1,000
City Court $20 $1,000 and $5,000
Town or Village Court $10 up to $1,000
Town or Village Court $15 $1,000 and $3,000.
NYC $15 Up to $1000
NYC $20 $1000 +


You will receive in the mail a notification from the court informing you of the court date and time. The hearing will likely occur a few weeks later. You must attend your hearing, or the court will dismiss your case altogether. You may contact the Court Clerk to request a new date if you cannot attend the hearing.

Notifying the Defendant

After filing your case, the next step should be to ensure that the defendant gets notification of the lawsuit because your hearing cannot occur if you do not serve the defendant.

Court Service by Mail

When the Small Claims Court Clerk receives your filing, they will notify the Defendant of the lawsuit. If the notification fails, the clerk will give you instructions about serving the defendant.

Other Methods of Service

If mail service is unsuccessful and you need to have the defendant served, you can not serve the defendant yourself. You can have anyone who is 18 or older and not involved in the case serve the notice. You can also hire a process server.

If you cannot serve the defendant within four months of filing your claim, the Court will dismiss your case.

Timeframe for Service

Within New York state law, defendants must be served at least eight days before any court hearing if served personally, 13 days via mail or overnight delivery, or 16 days through regular mail.

Proof of Service

To demonstrate that the defendant was properly served with notice of your lawsuit. You must provide evidence to the court that they have received it. One method of doing this is filing an Affidavit of Service with the court, which details how and when their notification occurred.

Preparing for NYC Small Claims Court Case

Once you file your case in small claims court, there are various steps you should take to prepare for your court hearing.

Settlement Negotiation

Before court proceedings, you may want to reach out to the defendant to try and reach an amicable solution without going to trial. Settlement negotiations may occur over the phone or in person and can be facilitated by mediators or arbitrators.

Preparing Evidence and Witnesses

To prepare for court, you must gather and organize all relevant evidence you will rely upon to support your claim.

Evidence may include contracts, receipts, invoices, photos, or other documentation supporting your claim. You should also consider whether any witnesses can support your claim. If so, witnesses must be prepared before the court to testify based on their knowledge of the facts of your case. You should be prepared to present compelling evidence and witness testimony supporting your legal claim to the court.

The Court Hearing in Small Claims Court NYC

The small claims court hearing is the most critical stage, during which the plaintiff and defendant present their cases before a judge who will make the final determination. Here are a few key points to keep in mind at this stage:

Court Tips

  • Arrive on time and dress appropriately
  • Check-in with the court clerk
  • Present yourself and your case in a respectful manner


Present Your Case

Present your case by outlining the relevant facts and explaining why the other party owes you money. You can provide evidence such as receipts, contracts, or relevant documents. You can even witnesses supporting your position. Be clear and direct with your argument, and direct everything you say to the judge and not to the defendant. Listen carefully when the judge asks you questions, do not interrupt, and provide a clear answer.

After you present your case, the defendant can defend themselves and raise any counterarguments. Pay close attention to any questions the judge asks the defendant because those questions will give you insight into what the judge finds to be significant. You will most likely be able to speak again when the defendant is done.

The Judgment

The judge can make the ruling at the end of the hearing, but it is more common for the judge to need time to consider your case. If the judge does not rule on the court day, both parties will receive the Notice of Judgment decision within 30 days.

If the judge rules in your favor, the judgment will state how much the defendant owes. If the judge does not rule in your favor, you can try to appeal, but very few small claims decisions are appealed, and the chances of a successful appeal are low.

How to Enforce Your Judgment

When you receive a ruling in your favor, it will be your responsibility to collect the amount awarded; the court does not collect the judgment. If the other party does not willingly make their payment, you may have to take some extra steps to enforce it. Below are a few key considerations when seeking enforcement:

Collecting Payment

The initial step in enforcing a judgment is collecting payment from the losing party, also known as the “judgment debtor.” You should call or write to them to ask for payment. If they don’t pay willingly, then you will need to take steps to locate their money and property. You can try to identify their assets by searching the internet, contacting the DMV to see if they own a car, and contacting the County Clerk to see if they own property. You can also send an Information Subpoena to the judgment debtor–a legal document signed and issued by the Court Clerk that orders the debtor to answer questions about their assets.

Once you have identified the judgment debtor’s assets, you can then hire an enforcement officer to collect the judgment. Based on the information you have collected about the judgment debtor’s assets, they will either get an execution or tell you how to get one. An execution is a court order that allows the officer to take the judgment debtor’s property or money to get your judgment paid.

Options for Nonpayment

If you get an income or property execution order but you are still unable to collect the judgment, there are additional legal remedies that you can pursue. You can file a bank levy or restraining notice against them. A bank levy allows the bank to freeze and seize the judgment debtor’s funds in the bank accounts. A restraining notice is most typically served on a third party who owes the judgment debtor money and ensures that the judgment debtor’s assets can not be transferred to avoid paying the debt.

Final Thoughts on Small Claims Court NYC

Navigating New York’s small claims court may seem complex and daunting, but understanding the procedures will help. If your damages meet the limit, a small claims court is a great place to resolve your dispute quickly and inexpensively.


The quest for justice is never easy, particularly when it comes to getting your money back. However, thanks to advances in technology, it has become easier. Quest for Justice’s first app, JusticeDirect, is the only app of its kind designed to support people without lawyers to resolve their disputes and get their money back, both in and out of court. The first step to getting money back is through a letter demanding payment from the other party JusticeDirect offers customizable demand letters for free. If the letter demanding payment does not work, then the next step is taking them to court. JusticeDirect* will guide users every step of the way through the small claims court process by helping them:


  1. Understand the legal process;
  2. Evaluate the pros and cons that come with taking someone to court;
  3. Generate small claims court forms; and,
  4. Avoid common mistakes when filing your forms and serving notice on the other side.
*Currently, JusticeDirect can only help litigants sue in California’s small claims court.

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