Small Claims Court Process in NYC: Step-by-Step Instructions for Filing in Manhattan
By Maria Fischer
Whenever someone wants a quick and simple resolution of a civil dispute, they often turn to Small Claims Court (also called the “People’s Court”).
Small Claims Court is a special part of the court where a person can sue without using a lawyer. In New York City, you can sue for up to $10,000. (The limit outside of New York City is up to $5,000.) To go through the Small Claims Court in New York City, you must be at least 18 years old and pay a court fee — typically between $15 and $20.
There are a number of benefits to choosing to file through Small Claims Court: It is inexpensive and convenient. You do not have to use a lawyer, and the Court will notify the defendant for you.
Examples of Small Claims Court cases include:
• bounced or stopped checks
• breach of contract, lease, warranty, or agreement
• damage to an automobile, other personal property, or real property
• failure to provide proper repairs, services, or merchandise
• failure to pay for services rendered, salary, rent, or for goods sold and delivered
• failure to return security, property, a deposit, or money loaned
• loss of luggage, property, time from work, or use of property
Note: In Small Claims Court, you must sue for money only. (For example, you cannot sue in Small Claims Court to force someone to do something, like fix an item, or for pain and suffering.)
Filing in Manhattan
Each New York City borough has its own Small Claims Court, so the process is slightly different depending on which borough you choose.
Do you want to file in Manhattan, but you aren’t sure where to begin? Here is a step-by-step guide to filing in Small Claims Court in Manhattan:
You can file in New York County if:
• You live in New York County
• The defendant lives in New York County
• The defendant works or has a place of business in New York County
If the defendant does not live or work or have a place of business in New York City, you cannot file a Small Claim in New York City.
What to file:
You may start your case by filling out a court form. You can get the form from the Court Clerk in New York County, or find it online here: https://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/forms/CIV-SC-50.pdf. You will need the correct name and street address of each defendant and claimant. You cannot use a P.O. Box.
If your claim is for an amount up to and including $1,000.00, there is a fee of $15.00. If your claim is for an amount over $1,000.00 and up to $10,000.00, there is a fee of $20.00. There is no additional postage fee for multiple defendants.
Fees can be paid by Bank Check, Tellers Check, Certified Check, attorney’s check, or by Money Order, made payable to “CLERK, CIVIL COURT.” No personal or company checks are accepted. Do not send cash by mail.
Where to file:
Once you have completed the form, you may file it and pay the fee in-person at the Small Claims Court Clerk’s Office, or send it in by mail.
The address for the New York County Civil Court is:
111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10007
If you are filing by mail, you must send:
1. The completed and signed Claim form
2. Payment of the fee
3. A self-addressed 6” x 9” envelope with postage (3 ounces)
The Harlem Community Justice Center is also located in Manhattan and serves as a Small Claims Court location.
The address for the Harlem Community Justice Center is:
170 East 121 Street
New York, NY 10035
The court system does not provide electronic filing for Small Claims matters at this time.
The date for your hearing will be approximately six weeks after the Court receives your form. The Court will provide you with an “Instructions to Claimant” form, which will include notice of your court date and time as well as a booklet that thoroughly explains the Small Claims procedure. Small Claims Court hearings are usually held at 6:30 pm, but if you are a senior citizen, a disabled person, or a person who works during the evening, you may request that your hearing be heard during the day. The Daytime Court begins at 9:30 a.m., and the Nighttime Court begins at 6:30 p.m.
After your claim is filed, the Small Claims Court Clerk will also serve a notice of your claim to the defendant. The notice of claim tells the defendant when to appear in Small Claims Court and includes a brief statement of your claim and the amount of money you are requesting. A Small Claims case will not proceed to trial until the defendant has been served with a notice of your claim.
The notice of your claim will be sent to the defendant by certified mail and by ordinary first-class mail. If the notice sent by ordinary first-class mail is not returned by the post office within 21 days as undeliverable, the defendant is presumed to have received notice of your claim. If the post office cannot deliver the notice of your claim, the Clerk will give you a new hearing date and will tell you how to arrange for personal delivery of the notice to the defendant. If the notice of claim cannot be served on the defendant within 4 months after you filed your claim, your claim will be dismissed.
Once the defendant has received notice of your claim, he or she may also file a counterclaim against you. The counterclaim must be for money only and cannot be for more than $10,000.00. The defendant may file a counterclaim within five days after receiving the notice and must pay a fee, plus the cost of mailing the counterclaim to the claimant. The defendant may also file a counterclaim on the day of the hearing. This is done when the calendar is called. If the defendant files a counterclaim on the day of the hearing but you are not prepared to defend against the counterclaim, the judge may postpone the hearing until another day.
The Court will begin the hearing by having the Clerk call your case and name. When you hear your case and name, stand up and state your name and say “Ready.” (If you want to postpone your trial or make another request, you may say “Application” instead.) If you and the defendant are both ready, the hearing will start.
If you and the defendant settle and make an agreement before your trial date, and the claim has been paid in full, you may notify the Small Claims Court Clerk in writing. The Clerk will mark the case settled, and neither side will have to go to Court.
How to prepare:
Before your hearing, you should gather all the evidence that you will need to support your claim, including:
• written agreements
• itemized bills
• invoices marked “PAID”
• itemized written estimates of the cost of services or repairs
• canceled checks
• damaged items
• letters or other written documents.
If there are records that are not in your possession, you may wish to subpoena them to be produced at the hearing. You can find more information on subpoenas here: https://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/smallclaims/subpoenas.shtml
If your claim requires expert knowledge to understand, you may also want to find an expert witness. (For example, if your claim is about poor workmanship fixing a roof, you may need a roofer with expert knowledge of your type of claim.) Before the hearing, you should prepare any witnesses you plan to testify in support of your claim or defense. Note: You may have to pay an expert witness to testify.
You should also make sure you know where you are going: If you have never been to the courthouse, aim to get there early to ensure you find the right courtroom and give yourself enough time to go through security.
Once you’ve arrived to the courtroom, double-check that your case is listed on the calendar. If your last name or the defendant’s last name is not listed on the calendar, consult the Clerk; if your case is listed, then you are ready to begin your Small Claims hearing.