Small Claims
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NOTICE: For public health reasons, the in-person Wednesdays Small Claims Advisor appointments have been suspended starting March 17, 2020 until further notice.
We are offering 10-minute telephone appointments instead during this period.
Each customer is limited to one 10-minute slot. Please do not sign-up for multiple slots on the same day, only one request per session will be honored.
Please sign up at calendly.com/allencapeloto. Appointments will become available each Tuesday morning.
Please visit us when our in-person appointments resume, if you wish to have the assistance of one of our translators.

Small claims court is a special court where:

  • Disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively.
  • The rules are simple and informal.
  • You are not allowed to have a lawyer represent you, except in an appeal (but you can ask a lawyer for advice).

The person who sues is the plaintiff.

The person who is sued is the defendant.

Resolving Your Small Claims Case in the California Courts

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Click on a topic to learn more:
Money limits in small claims court
  • In general, you can sue for up to $10,000 as long as you are a natural person (an individual) or a sole proprietor of a business.
  • Businesses and other entities (like government agencies) can only sue for up to $5,000.
  • You can only file 2 claims in a calendar year (Jan. 1 through Dec. 31) for more than $2,500.

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Deadline for filing a case

The deadline to file a lawsuit is called the statute of limitations. Most lawsuits MUST be filed within a certain amount of time. How much time someone has to file a case depends on the type of case and who they are suing. Figuring out when the right to sue someone starts can also be a complicated issue for the court to decide. When suing a government agency, look at that deadline first, no matter what type of case it is.

Here are the statutes of limitations for some common types of legal disputes:

Type of Case Statute of Limitations
Personal injury 2 years after you were hurt.
Property damage 3 years after your property was damaged.
Breaking a written contract or agreement 4 years from the day the agreement is broken
Breaking a verbal contract or agreement 2 years from the day the agreement is broken
Fraud (when you lose money because someone lied to you or tricked you on purpose.) 3 years to file after you know about the fraud, or should have known about the fraud.
Suing a government or public agency You must first file a claim with that agency, usually within 6 months. They have 45 days to make a decision. If they don't make a decision in those 45 days, then the claim is considered denied. If they reject your claim in writing, you have 6 months to file a civil action in the court. Find out more about suing a government agency.

It is not easy to figure out if it is too late to file (and even knowing whether a contract is written or oral can be very difficult). And if you are being sued and the plaintiff waited too long to sue you, you can bring that up in your court hearing and you may win automatically.

If you are not sure if the deadline to sue (or be sued) has passed, get advice from the small claims advisor or a lawyer if you can.

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Cost to file a small claims case

The filing fee is based on the amount of your claim and the number of claims you have filed in the past 12 months:

These are the current filing fees if you have filed 12 or fewer claims in the past 12 months:

Amount of Your Claim Filing Fee
$0 to $1,500 $30
$1,500.01 to $5,000 $50
$5,000.01 to $10,000 $75

If you have filed more than 12 claims in the past 12 months, the filing fee is $100 (for any claim amount). Filing fees change, so make sure you check to see what the current filing fees for small claims cases are at the time of your filing.

If you cannot afford the filing fee, you can ask the court to waive it. Read the instructions for filing a small claims case to find out more.

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Types of small claims cases

There are different kinds of cases you can file in small claims court. Here are some common ones:

  • Your former landlord refuses to return your security deposit.
  • Your tenant damaged your apartment and the repairs are more than the deposit.
  • A mechanic failed to fix your car and will not return the money or caused more damage.
  • You lent money to a friend and they refuse to pay you back.
  • You paid a contractor to work on your home and they didn't do it or did a bad job.
  • Someone wrote you a bad check or stopped payment on a check.
  • A government agency does something that hurts you or your property.

Click to learn more about some of the types of cases that have special rules to get tips and tools to help you with your case.

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Mediation - Resolve your case out of court

Mediation is a way to try to resolve your case without a judge. It gives you a chance to meet and talk with the other side with a neutral person who can help you both reach a solution together.

To learn more, see our Small Claims Mediation page.

Resolving Your Small Claims Case in the California Courts

Resolving Your Small Claims Case Chapter 3. Click for the full video.

Get Help and More Information

The Small Claims Advisor is a free service to help you with your Small Claims case in San Mateo County

There are other Resources to help you in San Mateo County, including library branches, consumer protection offices, and more.

Watch Winning a Small Claims Case in Sacramento to learn how to handle your small claims case. Although the video was made for Sacramento County, much of the information can be very useful for small claims cases anywhere in California.

To get information online beyond the information we have provided in these pages, visit:

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Contact the Small Claims Clerk

Small Claims Clerk's Office

Southern Branch: Hall of Justice & Records
400 County Center, 1st Floor, Room A,
Redwood City, CA 94063 [Directions]

Phone Number and Phone Hours:
(650) 261-5100 option 6
8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday;
8:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Fridays

Office Hours:
Monday - Friday: 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

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