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Small Claims Division

COVID-19 RENTAL DEBT IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT

Beginning November 2, 2021 a landlord has the option to bring an action in small claims court to recover COVID-19 rental debt that is more than the normal limits for small claims actions. COVID-19 rental debt is any unpaid rent or any  other money owed under a residential lease or residential rental agreement that came due between March 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021. The small claims court CANNOT determine possession of residential property or evict a tenant from property. For more information, see SC-500-Info. Forms are available at the courthouse and online at: https://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm.

Small Claims Court

Small claims court is where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The rules are simple and informal. Hearings are held where the adversaries appear without attorneys and recount their side of the dispute.

The person who sues is the plaintiff. The person who is sued is the defendant. In small claims court, you may ask a lawyer for advice, but you cannot have a lawyer in court. Those who do not speak English confidently may bring an adult to court as an interpreter, as long as he or she is not a witness.

The court cannot provide interpreters.

Claim Limit

In general, a natural person (an individual) cannot ask for more than $10,000 in a claim. Businesses and other entities (including government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. This limit on businesses does not apply to sole proprietors, who are treated as natural persons.

If you have a disability and need assistance, ask the court to help accommodate your needs. If you are hearing impaired and need assistance, notify the court immediately.

You may file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500 each. But you can only file 2 claims in a calendar year that ask for more than $2,500. If you have a claim for more than this amount, you may sue in the civil division of the trial court or you may sue in the small claims court and give up your right to the amount over $10,000.

Court Fee

The court charges fees for some of its procedures, but may excuse you from paying these fees if you cannot afford them. Refer to the Information Sheet on Waiver of Court Fees and Costs to find out if you meet the court's requirements. (Forms FW-001; FW-001-INFO; FW-003)

For Help With Your Case

The law requires each county to provide assistance in small claims cases free of charge. The Sutter County Small Claims Advisor is located in the Self-Help Center in the courthouse at 1175 Civic Center Blvd., Yuba City, CA 95993. The Small Claims Advisor can answer procedural questions regarding your small claims case. The Small Claims Advisor CANNOT give you legal advice.

Additional assistance may be obtained by e-mailing your specific questions to E-Help, or by utilizing the instructional materials available at the Self-Help Center. If you have a disability and need assistance pursuant to CRC 989.3 please contact the court immediately to help accommodate your needs.

Small claims forms are also available online at California Courts Small Claims Forms.

Click here to access the state of California's small claims information page, which provides additional information about the small claims process.

Filing a Claim

If you have attempted to solve the dispute with the opposing party and they have refused, you may file a claim if you are at least 18 years old. Individuals under 18 may ask the court to appoint a guardian ad litem. You must be the original owner of the claim and agree to appear at a hearing. If you are filing on behalf of a corporation or other business entity that is not a person, you must file additional forms to sue as (SC-103) or appear for (SC-109) a business.

You must sue in the right court and location.

This rule is called venue. If you file your claim in the wrong court, the court will dismiss the claim.  A claim may be filed where the defendant lives or where the business involved is located. It may also be filed where any damage or accident occurred, where a contract in dispute was signed, carried out or broken. If the case involves a purchase, it may be filed where the buyer lives, where he/she lived when the contract was entered into, signed the contract or where the goods/vehicle are permanently kept for an installment account, sales contract or motor vehicle finance sale.

The right location may be any of these:
  • Where the defendant lives or where the business involved is located;
  • Where the damage or accident happened;
  • Where the contract was signed or carried out;
  • If the defendant is a corporation, where the contract was broken;
  • For a retail installment account or sales contract or a motor vehicle finance sale:
    • Where the buyer lives;
    • Where the buyer lived when the contract was entered into;
    • Where the buyer signed the contract; or
    • Where the goods or vehicle are permanently kept.

When filing, you must use the defendant's exact legal name, whether it is an individual, a business entity or corporation. More information: http://www.courts.ca.gov/9736.htm

Statute of Limitations

Most lawsuits must be filed within a certain amount of time. In general, once the statute of limitations "runs out" on a claim, the legal claim is no longer valid. The period of time you have to sue someone varies depending on the type of claim: http://www.courts.ca.gov/1256.htm

What Happens After a Claim is Filed?

A defendant will be informed about a claim either by certified mail through the clerk's office or being served in person by a law enforcement officer, process server, or even a friend or family member who is not a party to your claim. Do not attempt to serve the claim yourself.

If the defendant also has a claim, he or she may file a Defendant's Claim in the same lawsuit. This helps to resolve all disagreements between the parties at the same time.

On the appointed trial date, all parties should be in court on time, with all witnesses, books, receipts, and other papers or items pertaining to the case.

The party who wins the case and collects money is the judgment creditor and the party who loses and owes the money is the judgment debtor. The judgment creditor cannot take any action to collect the money until the time for appeal ends or the appeal is decided.

The court's decision will be rendered on a form called the Notice of Entry of Judgment, and will either be handed to trial participants in court, or mailed after the trial is over.

If the case is settled before trial, the plaintiff must file a dismissal form with the clerk.

Ex Parte Communication

Letters sent to the judge are ex-parte communication. They are considered improper contact, without notice to the other side, and will not be forwarded to the judge for review. The judge may or may not consider the letter at the next court hearing. If you want to submit information to the judge to consider, then it will need to be in the proper format, with service to the other side and filed with the Court. If you need assistance with the proper paperwork, and you are self–represented, you may contact the Court's Self-Help Center.

Post-Trial Procedures

If you are the Plaintiff and lose the case, the court's decision on your claim is final. You may not appeal your own claim. You may voluntarily pay the judgment creditor directly if you are the judgment debtor.

If you are the Defendant and lose the case, you may appeal the decision on the other party's claim within 30 days after the Notice of Entry of Judgment was mailed or handed to you.

If you did not go to the trial, you can ask the court to vacate the judgment by filing a Motion to Vacate the Judgment within 30 days after the Notice of Entry of Judgment form was mailed.

The court will not collect any money awarded to the judgment creditor. If the judgment is not paid, the judgment creditor may request Order for Appearance and Examination be issued to make the judgment debtor come to court to answer questions about income and property. A Writ of Execution may also be issued to attach wages, bank accounts or other property. Additionally, a judgment creditor may put a lien on real property by having issued and recorded an Abstract of Judgment.

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