This section gives you information about some of the more common types of cases and the steps you should take as you prepare for your small claims case.
Click on the topic that relates to your dispute:
California has a Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) to keep repair shops from taking advantage of you. If you are unhappy with work done on your car, you can file a complaint with the BAR.
Before you file a complaint
Talk to the repair shop service manager.
Keep these tips in mind:
Filing a complaint with the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR)
Remember: BAR cannot represent you in court or collect money for you.
If you qualify to use the services of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, file a claim with them before filing with the small claims court. You will find a lot of helpful information in several langauges on their website or you can call them at: 1-415-557-7878.
To sue a government agency, you need to prove that:
In most cases, you only have 6 months to file your small claims court claim once the government agency rejects your claim. File a copy of your rejection letter with your small claims court claim.
Note: You cannot sue a federal government agency in small claims court!
To present your claim to the government agency
Get an official form from the agency:
Deadline to file your claim with the agency
If you missed your deadline, you can ask for permission to file a late claim. Talk to your small claims advisor for help with this.
The agency will tell you if your claim is approved or denied. If you hear nothing it is considered denied after 45 days.
If your claim is denied
If the agency denies your claim or if you have received no response after 45 days, you can sue in small claims court.
If you receive a written rejection of your claim by the governmental agency, you have 6 months from the date the notice was personally delivered or deposited in the mail to file the claim. If you do not get a rejection letter, you have 2 years to file from the day the incident occurred. But do not count on having 2 years to file your claim. To be safe, file your claim within the 6 months from when you should have received the rejection later. Talk to a lawyer or your court's small claims advisor if you are unsure of your deadline.
Once you file in small claims court, the process is the same as with any other case in small claims court. The defendant will be the public agency you filed your claim against. Read Suing Someone for information and instructions to file your small claims case.
A security deposit is any money a landlord takes from a tenant in case the property is damaged. It is separate from the “last month’s rent” which a landlord may require in addition to the security deposit.
There are limits on the amount of the security deposit:
Security deposit cases are usually handled in small claims court. They cannot be dealt with in an unlawful detainer (eviction) case.
Return of security deposit
After a tenant moves out, a landlord has 21 days to:
A landlord can deduct from the tenant’s security deposit:
The landlord can withhold from the security deposit ONLY those amounts that are necessary and reasonable and NOT a result of “ordinary and reasonable wear and tear.” For example, a landlord may not make you pay for painting, new carpets, or curtains unless there were serious damages that were beyond ordinary and reasonable wear and tear. And the landlord cannot use your security deposit to repair problems that existed in the unit before you moved in.
Security deposit disputes
If your landlord does not return the entire amount of your security deposit within the 21 days required by law, and you dispute the deductions from the deposit:
If you and the landlord cannot reach an agreement on the amount of the security deposit returned, you can file a lawsuit against the landlord for return of the security deposit. You can sue for:
You can sue the landlord in small claims as long as the total amount sued for is $10,000 or less.
Click if you are the tenant and want to file a small claims case against your landlord for return of your security deposit.
In general, contractors that fix your home must have a license from the State of California. To find out if your contractor is licensed, call the Contractors State License Board at 1-800-321-2752.
A contractor must be licensed
Figuring out how much money to sue for
In small claims court, an person can sue for up to $10,000 for damages that someone else caused him or her.
If the total amount you can sue for is over $10,000, you have to decide whether to give up the rest of the money and just sue for $10,000 or file your case in the civil division of the superior court, as either a limited civil case (for $25,000 or less) or an unlimited civil case (for over $25,000).
If you win and your licensed contractor cannot pay
A contractor has to pay a $12,500 bond to be able to get a license. If there is a violation of the licensing law, you can sue the company that holds the bond. Name that company as a defendant. Read the licensing law at Business and Professions Code, chapter 9 (starting at section 7000) .
Contact the Contractors State License Board online or by telephone at 1-800-321-2752 to get the name of the bonding company.
Note: The bonding company is a guarantor. You can only sue a guarantor for up to $6,500 ($4,000 if you are not a natural person; $2,500 if they do not charge for the guarantee). But you can sue a guarantor for up to $10,000 if you are a natural person and the guarantor is the Registrar of Contractors (the executive officer of the Contractors' State License Board).
If someone writes you a bad check, you can sue for the original amount of the check, plus 3 times the amount of the check up to an additional $1,500.
How to sue for a bad check:
For your small claims trial:
If someone stops payment on a check without a good faith dispute, you can sue for the amount of the check plus 3 times the amount of the check, with a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $1,500.
How to sue for a stop payment check:
For your small claims trial: