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New York Small Claims Courts

New York has different small claims court rules depending on whether the claimant files their claim in New York City or elsewhere. The Civil Court of New York City's small claims part may hear civil disputes that do not exceed $10,000. Outside of New York City, some city courts have small claims parts, which hear civil disputes of up to $5,000. Town and village courts may hear civil disputes that do not exceed $3,000.

If you have a small claims case, you may find the following links helpful:

This article describes the New York state's small claims process. For more information, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.

Small Claims Court Explained

The small claims court's design allows parties to resolve minor civil disputes in a quick and inexpensive manner. Many people involved in small claims cases do not need to hire attorneys to resolve their cases. For these reasons, some refer to the small claims court as the People's Court.

Any person 18 years or older may file a small claims case. If a minor wants to file a small claims case, their parent or guardian must file it on the minor's behalf. Business entities like partnerships or corporations may only file commercial small claims cases. The person filing a case is the claimant or plaintiff. The person or entity they sue is the defendant.

Claimants may only seek monetary relief from the small claims courts. They cannot seek an order from the small claims court compelling someone to take down a fence or to return personal property, for example.

New York City's small claims court may hear the following types of cases, among others:

As noted above, the small claims court differs depending on whether the plaintiff files their case in New York City or elsewhere. This section explains some of those differences.

New York City Small Claims Court

The Civil Court of New York City has a small claims court. It hears certain civil disputes where the claim amount does not exceed $10,000. The Civil Court of New York covers the following boroughs:

  • Bronx
  • Brooklyn
  • Manhattan
  • Queens
  • Staten Island

If a plaintiff's claim exceeds $10,000 they may file it in the small claims court, but they'll waive their right to recover any amount of money over $10,000. The plaintiff may not split their claim into smaller claims to skirt the court's jurisdictional limit.

Non-New York City Courts

Outside of New York City, some city courts have small claims parts. These small claims courts may hear certain civil disputes where the amount in controversy does not exceed $5,000.

In addition to city courts, the state of New York also has town and village courts. These courts hear civil disputes where the amount of money involved does not exceed $3,000.

How To File a Small Claims Case

A claimant initiates their small claims case by a Statement of Claim form with an appropriate court. The Statement of Claim is available online or at your local courthouse. The Statement of Claim identifies all claimants and defendants to a case. The claimant must give a brief description of the dispute and the amount of their claim.

Plaintiffs may file the Statement of Claim in person, by mail, or online. The court will charge a filing fee of $15 to $20 when you file the Statement of Claim.

Contact your court clerk's office if you have questions about filing the form. The court clerk cannot provide legal advice, but they can offer some assistance with filing the Statement of Claim. Some town and village courts do not have a small claims court clerk. If your court does not have a court clerk, contact the judge assigned to your case if you have questions.

Where To File

The claimant must file their case in a court with jurisdiction over the defendant. This often means the claimant must file their case in small claims court in the county or judicial district where:

  • The defendant lives
  • The defendant works
  • The defendant has their place of business
  • The defendant's rental property at issue is located
  • If all parties are residents of New York City, the claimant may file the claim in their home county

If the defendant does not live, work, do business, or own rental property in the state, the claimant may not file their case against the defendant in the small claims court.

For more information about where to file your case, consider reading the guides to filing small claims cases in New York City, Nassau County, and Suffolk County, or all other counties.

When To File

New York law requires claimants to file their civil claims within a certain amount of time known as the statute of limitations. The court cannot hear the case if the claimant fails to file their claim within the statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations varies depending on the plaintiff's specific claim. It usually begins to run when the cause of action arises or when the claimant should have reasonably known it arose. You can find specific examples here, and NYCourts offers a free statute of limitations chart as well.

Serving the Defendant

The court will notify the defendant of the small claims court case. It will mail a notice of the small claims case by first-class mail and certified mail to the defendant. The court assumes the defendant received notice of the case so long as the Post Office does not return the first-class mail as undeliverable.

However, if the court cannot serve the defendant, the claimant must serve the defendant. They can ask an adult who is not part of the case to serve the defendant personally. They may also hire a private process server to serve the defendant.

The court may dismiss the case if the claimant cannot serve all the defendants within four months of filing their Statement of Claim. The small claims court hearing cannot occur unless the court or the plaintiff serves the defendant.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

A defendant who receives notice of a small claims case against them and disagrees with the claim must file an Answer with the court.

The defendant may also file a counterclaim for money against the claimant. A defendant must file a counterclaim with the court within five days of receiving notice of the claimant's lawsuit. The defendant must serve notice of the counterclaim on the claimant. The defendant also has the option to assert a counterclaim on the scheduled court date in open court. The claimant may ask the court to postpone the trial if the defendant first notifies them of the counterclaim at the court hearing.

A defendant may request a jury trial instead of a bench trial. The court will charge a $70 jury fee to the defendant and an additional $50 fee, payable to the winning party. The defendant must file an affidavit requesting a jury trial and state at least one question of fact the jury must decide.

Before the Small Claims Hearing

The parties may contact each other or their attorneys, if they hired any, to try and resolve the case. Every county in New York offers free access to alternative dispute resolution options. Some courts require parties to attend mandatory mediation. Contact your local court clerk for information about free mediation for your legal dispute. If the parties settle their case before the trial, they should notify the court clerk.

In preparation for the small claims trial, the parties may secure evidence to introduce and witnesses to testify. For example, if the dispute involves personal property damage, a party may take photographs of the damaged item and bring it to court. If an eyewitness indicates they will not attend the hearing, a party may issue a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order compelling someone to come to court and testify.

The Small Claims Court Hearing

If the claimant does not appear on the court date, the court will dismiss their case. The court will conduct an inquest if the defendant does not appear for the small claims court hearing. During the inquest, the court will ask the claimant questions and determine if there is a factual basis for their claims. The court may then enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. In that case, the court may award some or all of the plaintiff's claim, and the defendant must pay it.

On the court date, the claimant will present their arguments first. This may include introducing evidence and calling witnesses to testify. If one party calls a witness to testify, the other party may cross-examine the witness. Once the claimant finishes presenting their claim, the defendant presents their case.

A judge or arbitrator will hear and decide your case. The court may issue its decision immediately, or it can issue its decision within 30 days.

Appeals

If an arbitrator decides your case, you cannot appeal their decision. If a judge or jury decides your case, either party may appeal the judgment. An appeal requests that a superior court review the lower court's decision. The appealing party must file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the court's judgment, or 35 days if the court mailed the judgment.

The superior court may only review whether substantial justice existed in the lower court proceeding. In other words, so long as the small claims hearing was fair, the appellate court will likely affirm its decision.

For more information about appealing a small claims judgment, read Starting an Appeal from NYCourts.

Enforcing a Judgment

The person who receives a money judgment in their favor is the judgment creditor. The judgment debtor owes the judgment creditor money. The judgment creditor is responsible for collecting money from the judgment debtor.

The creditor and debtor may agree to a payment method. Suppose, however, the debtor cannot afford the payment or they choose not to pay it. The creditor has several options to enforce the judgment.

One option for the creditor is to contact an enforcement officer from the sheriff's or constable's office. They may also contact a collection agency that will hire an enforcement officer. The creditor may then give the enforcement officer a copy of the judgment and information the claimant collected regarding the debtor's assets. Then, the officer or the claimant must obtain an “execution," a court order allowing the officer to seize money or property from the debtor. 

The execution allows the enforcement officer to take the following actions:

  • Garnish the debtor's wages or bank accounts to satisfy the judgment
  • Seize and sell the debtor's property to satisfy the judgment

Read the small claims handbooks linked at the top of this article for more information about enforcing a judgment.

Contact an Attorney

Small claims cases often involve smaller amounts of money and minor legal issues. However, they may involve complex questions of law or fact. In addition, losing a small claims case may cost you up to $10,000 in some cases. Therefore, consider contacting an experienced civil litigation attorney if you are involved in a small claims case. They can provide helpful legal advice about your claim and protect your interests.

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