The Basics Of A California Small Claims Action

Small Claims Court is geared towards the average citizen, letting everyday people resolve their disputes quickly and inexpensively. Almost any dispute can be taken to Small Claims Court, provided the amount of money requested falls within the maximum allowed by California law. Landlord-tenant disputes to collect unpaid rental payments are one of the more common types of small claims cases filed in California.

In California, an individual can collect up to $10,000 in Small Claims Court, while corporations and limited liability companies are limited to $5,000. Attorneys in many states, including California, are banned from these court proceedings.

Preparing, Filing and Serving Your Paperwork

One of the most important steps to winning your case is to have the paperwork properly prepared. There are very specific court document and filing requirements, however, and that’s where many people hesitate to use the system to their advantage. This is where Lynx Legal Services can help. We have over 15 years of experience handling small claims cases. After we obtain the facts of your case, we will ensure your paperwork is in top notch condition, is properly filed with the court and is properly served on the defendant.

Going to Court

If you go to trial, both you and your opponent will have to appear before the judge or court-appointed official. Only at this point can you call witnesses. However, calling witnesses requires additional service fees and serving them with a subpoena well in advance. Lynx can handle any service of process needs you may have throughout the case.

The Judgment

The judge enters a final judgment after both sides have presented their arguments. The plaintiff typically has to prove that he or she is entitled to the amount of money or property requested. After both parties present their case, the Court will issue a written decision (either that day or shortly thereafter) deciding in favor of one of the parties. The defendant can appeal the judgment if he or she chooses. Unlike the small claims suit, the appeal must be tried in a more formal manner, usually requiring the representation of an attorney.

The Plaintiff, by contrast, has no right to file an appeal. He or she is bound by the decision of the Small Claims Court. If you win, the judgment is good for 10 years. You must wait 30 days after the judgment has been entered before beginning to proceed with collections.

Collecting Your Judgment

The court will enter a judgment stating how much the losing party has to pay. While many people don’t realize it, the court simply makes the judgment; it does not collect payment for you. Ideally, the judgment debtor (person who owes money) will pay immediately. If your opponent refuses to pay, you have additional legal tools available to you. Wage garnishment allows you to collect a portion of the debtor’s paycheck, and property liens prevent debtors from selling their property without paying you.

Tips To Help You Win our Case

Prepare your paperwork and argument for the Hearing: Once you have been assigned a trial date, it is important to prepare your case. This includes gathering all documents, such as receipts for repairs, pictures of damaged property, copies of bad checks, and the rental contract, for example. Make sure you have this organized and can quickly locate it if requested in the trial. If you are unsure of which documents you should bring, give us a call and we can guide you through this step at (888) 441-2355.

During trial, the judge will most likely ask you questions regarding your case so that he/she can have a full understanding of it. Knowing the facts ahead of time will allow you to provide prompt and firm answers, without needing to look or shuffle through your paperwork. Before the trial starts, go over the facts and your paperwork, so that you can quickly provide proof when asked to do so.

Arrive early: Arriving early to the court on your trial date is important for two reasons. One, you will have time to go over your case, facts, and paperwork at hand. This is important because you only have a set amount of time to present your case. If you are late, your time to speak could be cut short. Even worse would be if you are not present at all, in which case your default will be entered, and you will lose your case. Second, courts usually run on a very tight schedule and will not wait for you. This is especially true in California, where the court’s docket sheet has been historically congested, especially in recent years.

Dress Professionally: Appearing as a professional, neat and well-dressed property owner gives the judge a good impression of you. Try to dress business like, and avoid clothing that has bright colors. Avoid wearing jeans, t-shirts, shorts, sandals and tennis shoes. Presenting yourself in a business-like manner in the court of law shows respect and can help you win the case.

Be respectful and speak clearly: Once trial begins, be sure to show respect to everyone present in the trial, most importantly the judge. A good indication of respect during trial is to speak only when spoken to, and always allow others in the room to finish speaking. When it’s your turn to speak, do so clearly and avoid speaking to your tenant directly during the hearing.

At Lynx Legal Service, help on any of these issues is simply a click or phone call away. Email or call our office at (888) 441-2355 to discuss your questions or if you are ready to start a case.

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