A Self-Help Guide to Small-Claims Court

by Chris Bjorklund

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Sometimes when you have a consumer dispute, the only way to resolve it is in small-claims court. In this court, parties represent themselves without attorneys, and the maximum an individual can sue for is $10,000. Many cases in these courts involve landlord/tenant disputes or unpaid loans between two parties. 

Before you file a case, you need to figure out how much money you should sue for, who you’ll be suing and where they’re located. You also need to collect proof or evidence such as receipts, photos and emails. The California Courts Self-Help Guide suggests finding out if you’ve passed the statute of limitations (or deadline) to sue and evaluating whether bringing a case is worth your time. The guide explains the basic steps to follow to start a small-claims court case, how to prepare for your day in court and how to collect the money if you win. Just remember, the court doesn’t help you collect on the judgment. Most courts have small-claims court advisors who can answer your questions about the process.