Small claims in California

This guide can help you:

Small claims basics 

Small claims court allows you to sue a person, business, or government agency that you think owes you money. Generally, you can only sue for up to $12,500 in small claims court (or up to $6,250 if you’re a business). You can ask a lawyer for advice before you go to court, but you can't have one with you in court.

Special rules for COVID-19 rental debt cases in small claims

Starting November 1, 2021, you can sue or be sued for COVID-19 rental debt in small claims. If you are suing a tenant for COVID-19 rental debt, you can sue for more than $12,500. 

COVID-19 rental debt is unpaid rent due from March 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, and any other money owed, like parking fees, under a rental agreement.

Get more information
You can get general information in the COVID-19 Rental Debt in Small Claims Court (form SC-500-INFO).

If you want to sue a tenant for COVID-19 rental debt, get step-by-step instructions on how to start a case.

If you were sued for COVID-19 rental debt (you were served a Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (COVID-19 Rental Debt) (form SC-500), find out your options.

Small claims is a cheaper and faster process

illustration representing a fee to be paid

The costs. The filing fee for a small claims case is between $30-$100. If you can’t afford the fee, you can ask the court for a fee waiver.



How long to go to court. Once you file papers to start a case, you typically have a court date (trial) in about 1-2 months.

There are some limits on small claims

  • You can’t have a lawyer represent you.
  • You have to collect the money if you win your case. The court does not do it for you. 
  • If you started the case, you can't appeal if you lose your case. The judge’s decision is final. You can appeal if you are sued, or the other side sues you back, and you lose.

If small claims court limits don’t work for you, you may want to think about opening a case in civil court. That process is much more challenging and expensive, though, especially if you decide to file on your own without an attorney. 

Get step-by-step instructions

The steps and your options are different if you are suing for or were sued for COVID-19 rental debt.

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