Q: I am a landlord and my previous tenant owes me money. What is the procedure to file a small claims lawsuit?

A: You will first need to prepare and file a Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to go to Small Claims Court (SC-100). This form is found online or purchased at the San Diego Superior Court Courthouse located at 330 West Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101. After you prepare the claim form, then you must pay the filing fee and submit the form to the clerk’s office. The clerk will write the trial date on the filed claim and give you a copy of the form to serve on your tenant. 

You must properly serve the claim on your tenant and file the proof of service with the court before your trial date. For more information about proper service and the time to file the proof of service, either contact an attorney or review the court’s website at  https://www.sdcourt.ca.gov/sdcourt/smallclaims2/smallclaimsproofofservice

 

Q: I am a landlord and my previous tenant filed a small claims lawsuit against me. I just received notice of trial from the court. What should I do to prepare for the trial?

A: Regardless of whether you are a plaintiff or defendant in a small claims case, the trial preparation is the same. You will first want to collect any physical evidence that you have that supports your claims or defenses. The most common physical evidence for a landlord are items such as receipts, rent ledgers, photographs/videos, emails, text messages, etc. Another important type of evidence are witnesses. Witnesses for landlords are often property managers, maintenance workers, pest control, or other tenants. You will need to create a witness and exhibit list that details what evidence you will present to the judge. It is important to be organized and concise when presenting your evidence. You will need three copies of all documents that you will present in court (one for the plaintiff, one for the defendant, and one for the judge). Lastly, you should check the court’s website to obtain direction from the court as to how and when to submit evidence and to confirm if your trial is virtual or in person.

Q: I am a landlord and my prior tenant caused $12,000 in property damage to my rental property. How much money can I sue for in small claims court?  

A: A natural person (an individual) may request damages up to $10,000 in small claims court. If you own your property in the name of an LLC or corporation and are not considered a sole proprietor, you cannot request damages that exceed $5,000. To request sums more than $10,000, you would have to sue your tenant in Superior Court.  Please note, these limits do not apply to COVID-19 rental debt. 

Q: My previous tenant owes me rent from September 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. What is the earliest date that I can sue my tenant for this unpaid rent?

A: Rent from March 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021 is considered COVID-19 rental debt. The earliest date that a landlord can sue for COVID-19 rental debt is November 1, 2021. You should speak to an attorney prior to filing a claim for COVID-19 rental debt to make sure that the law has not changed. 

Q: My tenant owes me $20,000 of COVID-19 rental debt. Do the small claims court caps apply to COVID-19 rental debt?

A: No, all claims for COVID-19 rental debt should be filed in small claims court regardless of whether the claim exceeds $10,000. California law states that the small claims court will have jurisdiction over all claims for COVID-19 rental debt. 

Q: Where can I file a small claims lawsuit in San Diego County?

A: San Diego County only has one courthouse that accepts and hears small claims cases. The proper courthouse to file your small claims case in is the Central Courthouse located 330 West Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101.

Q: I have never been sued in small claims court before and I am very nervous. Can I have an attorney represent me at my trial?

A: No, parties in a small claims action cannot be represented by an attorney. Small claims court was designed to streamline the legal process so everyday individuals could complete the process without legal counsel. Many people find it valuable to speak to an attorney to assist with trial preparation. Additionally, you can hire an attorney to complete all the filings and prepare your evidence, but an attorney cannot argue for you in court.

Q: I went to small claims court because my tenant sued me for the return of their security deposit. The judge ruled that I did not have enough evidence or receipts and awarded the tenant the full security deposit. Can I appeal this case? If so, how long do I have to appeal it? 

A: Yes, you may appeal your small claims case within 30 days after the date the Notice of Entry of Judgment was mailed to you by the court clerk. The case will be heard again without consideration of the previous ruling. In the appeal, you and your tenant may be represented by an attorney. If you do retain an attorney, you should try to settle the case one last time. Settling the matter will reduce the expense and risk of having to go to trial again. 

Attorney Franco Simone, of Simone & Associates and The Landlords’ Legal Center, has been doing evictions for over 20 years.  He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego.  Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday – Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com or email [email protected]