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Thinking of filing a small claims lawsuit in Monroe County? Small claims courts are a great way for everyday people to efficiently and affordably resolve their legal disputes. To learn how to file a lawsuit in Monroe County, NY, read the article below.
Common Types of Monroe County Small Claims Lawsuits
You can bring a small claims lawsuit to Monroe County small claims court as long as there is not a better court that can handle your lawsuit. For example, if you want to evict someone, you would need to go to Housing Court, as this is the court that handles evictions.
Here are common types of small claims lawsuits filed in Monroe County small claims court:
Someone hit your car and refuses to pay for the damages.
You paid a contractor to do work on your home in Rochester, but they never showed up.
You own a small business in Webster, and your customer refuses to pay their outstanding invoices.
Your neighbor damaged your property, and they won't pay to fix the damages.
You are a tenant that moved out of your Brockport apartment, and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit.
You gave someone a loan, and they won’t pay back the loan amount.
You are a landlord and own an apartment complex in Fairport, and one of your tenants refuses to pay rent.
In Monroe County, you cannot sue someone in any small claims court to force them to do something or return your property. You can only sue for money. For example, you hired painters to paint your house, but they paint it the wrong color. You can only sue the painters to recover how much it will cost to repaint the house or for a refund; you cannot sue the painters to force them to repaint your home.
Monroe County Small Claims Limits
The small claims “limits” determine how much you can sue for in Monroe County small claims.
There are two types of small claims courts in Monroe County:
Town and Village Courts
The most important difference between these two courts is the amount you can sue for.
In Monroe County city court, the maximum you can sue for is $5,000.
In Monroe County town and village courts, the maximum amount you can sue for is $3,000.
What happens if I am owed more than what I can sue for in Monroe County small claims?
If the other party owes you more than the small claims limit, you may want to consider filing your lawsuit in a different court. However, Monroe County small claims courts are more affordable, efficient, and faster than other types of courts.
You also cannot file multiple smaller lawsuits to get around the claim limit. However, if you have multiple claims, you may be able to file two different lawsuits, one for each claim.
Monroe County Small Claim Court Locations
There is one City Court in Monroe County that handles small claims cases:
Rochester City Court
99 Exchange Boulevard
Hall of Justice
Rochester, NY 14614
Remember, the maximum amount of money you can sue for in Monroe County City Court is $5,000.
There are also dozens of town and village courts in Monroe County that handle small claims. Use the New York Courts’ website to locate a specific town or village court near you. Remember, in Monroe County town and village courts, the maximum amount you can sue for is $3,000.
How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue For?
Even though it may seem easy to calculate how much to sue for, oftentimes, this question is trickier than it seems. Generally speaking, taking someone to small claims isn't meant for you to come out winning more than what you are owed. At the hearing, the judge will want to know how you calculated the amount you are suing for and will ask you to prove your calculations.
Here are some tips for calculating how much to sue for:
Use receipts. For example, you took your car to a mechanic for repairs. The repairs cost $1,500. When you get your car back from the mechanic and try to turn it on, you find out the car won’t start, and you will need to take your car in for repairs again. You can use invoices and receipts to figure out the total amount the first mechanic owes you.
Use estimates. For example, if you hired window cleaners to clean the windows in your home, but they break some of them instead, you may need an estimate from a contractor to see how much it will cost to fix the windows.
How Much Does it Cost to Sue in Monroe County Small Claims?
If you are an individual suing another individual or business in Rochester City Court, then you will pay:
$15 if you are suing for $1000 or less, and
$20 if you are suing for more than $1000.
If you are a business (corporation or LLC) suing an individual or business, the cost to file will be:
$25 plus postage.
These types of small claims lawsuits are known as commercial claims.
The cost to file in a Monroe County town or village court ranges from $10-$15. Confirm any filing fees with the specific town or village court you wish to file in for accurate fees.
If you are low-income and cannot afford to pay filing costs, you can apply for a waiver of your court fees.
In New York state, this waiver is unfortunately named the Poor Person Relief; however, don’t let this deter you if it is something you need to be able to seek justice in court.
To file for a Poor Person Relief waiver, you should call the court clerk’s office you are suing in. Different judges require different proof to decide your fee waiver request, so, the court may ask you to submit additional items to prove you do not have the money to pay your court costs.
Is it Worth it to Sue Someone in Monroe County Small Claims?
When deciding to sue someone in small claims court, it is really up to the costs versus the benefits in your individualized situation.
Here is how some of our clients measure the cost v. benefit of going to small claims:
Cost. Spending $20 to get back $3,000 is very affordable.
How soon will you find out whether you won? After your small claims court hearing, you can expect to have a decision from the judge within a couple of days, but depending on the court, it could take a couple of months.
Time spent. It is tricky to calculate how much time you will spend on a lawsuit because of our current court system. You may have to go a few times to the court to file the lawsuit, especially if you need more information or do it wrong. The good news is that with People Clerk, you can prepare and file your small claims lawsuit from home as we take care of the logistics.
Justice. For some, the driving factor is not money or time. Sometimes just knowing you are deterring someone from hurting others as they hurt you is enough.
Statute of Limitations and Monroe Small Claims
Statute of limitations, which are deadlines, let you know by when you should file a small claims lawsuit in Monroe County. The statute of limitations can range between 3-6 years. The statute of limitations is the same for a small claims lawsuit as for other types of lawsuits in New York. However, depending on the type of claim you bring, the statute of limitations will be different. For example, there will be a different statute of limitations that addresses property damage cases and breach of contract cases.
Here are some common questions about the statute of limitations:
Does my hearing have to be before the statute of limitations? No, but your case has to be FILED before the statute of limitations.
Can I still file my small claims lawsuit if the statute of limitations already passed? You will still be able to file your lawsuit because it is not the clerk who decides whether the statute of limitations has passed. The judge is the only person who can decide whether the statute of limitations has passed. If the statute of limitations has passed, the judge will let you know at the hearing and will close your case.
How do I get more certainty about the statute of limitations? (1) consult a lawyer before suing in small claims, (2) review the New York state code for your type of claim, and (3) let the judge decide at the hearing.
We don’t recommend waiting until the last minute to file your Monroe County small claims lawsuit. Here are some reasons why:
You may need more time. If you file your lawsuit incorrectly and need to be able to refile your lawsuit, your second lawsuit may miss the statute of limitations.
You may lose evidence. The longer you wait to file your lawsuit, the more chances there are that you might lose evidence. For example, many small claims lawsuits have text messages as evidence, and if you lose your phone and a backup, you won't have access to those text messages.
You begin to lose credibility the more you wait. The judge will be curious to know why you waited so long to file your lawsuit if what you are saying is true.
What to Do Before You File in Monroe County Small Claims?
Here are some steps you can take before you file a small claims suit:
Ask the other party to pay you back.
Decide where to file the lawsuit.
Determine who needs to sue (the "claimants").
Determine who you need to sue (the "defendants").
Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit.
Ask the Other Party to Pay You Back
In Monroe County small claims court, individuals filing a lawsuit are not required to send a demand letter before filing. However, we recommend you ask the other party to pay you back either over the phone or preferably in writing in the form of ademand letter.
Here are at least three good reasons why you should send a demand letter before filing a small claims lawsuit in Monroe County:
When you send a demand letter, you are likely to be taken more seriously by the other party.
You will be able to include a copy of your demand letter as part of your evidence to show the judge that you gave the other party an opportunity to resolve the dispute before escalating it to small claims court.
By sending a demand letter, you may be able to settle the case outside of court.
If you are a corporation suing an individual (known as a consumer transaction) in Monroe County small claims court, there are special rules you need to be aware of:
You are required to mail a demand letter at least 10 days before filing.
Include a copy of your demand letter with the lawsuit and have a notary certify that you sent a demand letter.
Figure Out in Which Court to File Your Monroe County Small Claims Lawsuit
As stated previously, there is only one Monroe County City Court that handles small claims cases, and that is the Rochester City Court. However, there are various town and village Justice Courts that also handle small claims cases. Before going to your nearest Monroe County small claims court to file your small claims lawsuit, take some time to figure out which court has "authority" over the other party. This is known as "jurisdiction.
To sue someone in Rochester City Court, the other party must live, work or have an office in Monroe County. Also, if you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located in Monroe County as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit.
Here is the relevant code for City Court “...the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular employment within the county, or where the claimant is or was a tenant or lessee of real property owned by the defendant and the claim relates to such tenancy or lease, and such real property is situated within the county.” Uniform City Court Act (UCT) Chapter 497, Article 18.
To sue someone in a Monroe County town or village Justice Court, the other party must live, work, or have an office in that Monroe County town or village. Also, just as with City Court, if you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located in that Monroe County town or village as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit.
Here is the relevant code for Monroe County town or village courts, “...the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular employment within the municipality where the court is located, or where claimant is or was a tenant or lessee of real property owned by the defendant and the claim relates to such tenancy or lease, and such real property is situated within the municipality where the court is located.” Uniform Justice Court Act (UJC) Chapter 898, Article 18.
Why can't all courts have authority over the other party? Because this is what your elected officials decided was fair. The logic is that it isn't fair for someone without a connection to Monroe County to be sued in Monroe County.
What happens if I file in the wrong small claims court? You will likely still be able to file your lawsuit as this is a decision for the judge to make, which means that you may not find out until the hearing that you filed your lawsuit in the wrong court. This means they may close your case, and you will have to refile it in the right court. This is risky because if the statute of limitations has passed, then you won't be able to win even if you file in the right court the second time.
Determine Who Needs to Sue (the “Claimants”)
Normally, the person or business filing the lawsuit is called the claimant in Monroe County small claims. Deciding who needs to be included in a lawsuit as a claimant is normally an easy determination. Ask yourself, who is owed money? Anyone who is owed money should be included in the lawsuit.
Not sure who to include? It is better to include everyone who potentially is owed money and let the judge decide at the hearing. If a judge doesn't think someone should be included in the lawsuit, they will take that person off the lawsuit at the hearing and leave everyone else as part of the lawsuit. Otherwise, a judge may have you refile the lawsuit.
Here are some common examples we see trip up our clients:
You and your roommate just moved out of a rental unit in Rochester. When you both moved in, you had to pay a $1,500 deposit. Your landlord refuses to return the security deposit. Both you and your roommate are owed the money, so the judge will want to make sure you and your roommate are both included in the lawsuit.
You were driving your brother’s car, and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $2,000 to fix the car. Your brother should be included in the lawsuit since they are the registered owner.
Determine Who You Need to Sue (the “Defendants”).
Normally, the person or business being sued is called the defendant in Monroe County small claims court. Ask yourself, who is responsible for what happened to me?
Determining who to sue is sometimes trickier than it seems. Here are some tips to help you make this determination:
When in doubt, sue everyone you think is responsible and let the judge decide at the hearing. You don't want the judge to close your lawsuit because even though they think you are right, you didn't sue the right person or business.
Security deposit lawsuits. We often see clients sue a property management company and not their landlord in security deposit cases. When suing to get your security deposit back, you want to make sure you sue the person or business listed on your lease or rental agreement as they are the ones holding onto your security deposit, plus anyone else you also think is responsible.
Car accident lawsuits. Don't forget to sue the driver that is responsible for hitting your car in addition to the owner of the car, if it’s not the same person.
Make Sure to Have the Information You Will Need to Prepare the Small Claims Lawsuit
Prepare for your Monroe County small claims lawsuit by making sure you have the correct information for the person or business you are suing.
When suing an individual in Monroe County small claims:
You will need their full legal name and their Monroe County home, office, or work address. You will need to find this information before suing them, as you will be asked for this information on the forms you need to file to start your lawsuit.
Don’t have this information? Use Google, Linkedin, or consider having someone run a report called a "Skip Trace" that looks for their information on different databases.
Suing a business in Monroe County small claims:
Most people don't spend the time figuring out the correct information to list on their Monroe County small claims lawsuit when suing a business.
You need to narrow down a business’s official legal name before suing them in Monroe County small claims. What is an official legal name? This is the name the business has used to incorporate its business. The reality is that many businesses are not incorporated (they don't need to be), which means that you are suing an individual and not a business. For example, you paid Ace Landscaping to landscape your home in Pittsford. Ace Landscaping never showed up to do the work, so you decide to sue them in Monroe County small claims. You first need to determine whether Ace Landscaping is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name Ace Landscaping.
Many businesses also do business using a name other than their official legal name. This is called a "dba", "fictitious business name”, or “trade name.”
Once you have determined the official legal name, you will be able to sue the correct business and serve the correct person on behalf of a business.
How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Monroe County Small Claims Court
Generally, there are about 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Monroe County:
Prepare the lawsuit.
File the lawsuit.
Serve the lawsuit.
Prepare for the small claims hearing.
We break down each one of these steps below.
Preparing Your Small Claims Lawsuit
If you are suing an individual in Monroe County Rochester City Court, you will need to properly fill out an Application for Small Claim.
In Monroe County, claimants (the person suing) filing as a business must have a corporation in New York state to file a commercial claim against a business or individual. For example, if you are ABC Corporation, a New York corporation, and you want to sue a business based on a commercial transaction or an individual based on a commercial claim arising from a consumer transaction, you need to fill out the following documents in this Rochester City Court Checklist.
Once you prepare the forms, you will need to file them with the court. People Clerk can help you file your Rochester City Court small claims lawsuit.
Filing Your Small Claims Lawsuit
You can submit the Monroe County small claims forms in person or by mail.
It is good practice to take 2 copies of the form properly filled out but don’t sign them until you are in front of the court clerk.
Make sure to take proper payment. This may be a check, money order, or cash.
Serving Your Small Claims Lawsuit
Once you file your claim with the small claims court clerk, it is up to the clerk to notify the other party that they have been sued (this is called “serving”). The court will serve the lawsuit by mailing the documents to the other party.
If the mail comes back as undelivered, you will be able to serve the lawsuit using a friend or a registered process server. You will need to call the court to determine if your lawsuit has been properly served.
Prepare for the Small Claims Hearing
The most important step to winning your small claims lawsuit is to come prepared for the hearing. To prepare for your Monroe County small claims court hearing.
Research the law. Generally, it is good practice to know which laws support your claims. For example, if your claim is about a security deposit, consider researching security deposit laws in your state. At this stage, you may also want to consider consulting with an attorney if you have any doubts about your claims.
Prepare your evidence. Not only should you have all your evidence ready for the hearing, but it should all be organized with dates and titles. For example, if you own a small business in Rochester and your client refuses to pay their outstanding invoices, include the invoices you have sent the client (in chronological order, if possible) along with other correspondence between you and your client. Remember, in small claims court, it is your responsibility to prove to the judge why and how much the other party owes you.
Prepare what you will say at the hearing. At the hearing, both parties will be able to present their side of the story to the judge. The judge will first ask the person who filed the lawsuit to tell them why they are suing. The judge will then ask the person being sued why they don’t owe the person who sued them any money.
Bring multiple copies of your evidence. You should bring at least three copies of your evidence. One copy for you, one copy for the judge, and one copy for the other party.
People Clerk can help you organize your evidence for your Monroe County small claims hearing.
What Accommodations Can the Court Provide?
The New York State Unified Court System provides a number of ADA accommodations and other reasonable accommodations for those who need assistance while pursuing their case in court. To find out what can be done for you, make sure to call the court or the clerk and convey your needs, they will tell you what needs to be done in order to accommodate those needs.
Here are some types of accommodations the court can provide:
If you or a witness do not speak English well, you can tell the clerk when you file your lawsuit, and they will assign an official interpreter to your case.
The court can provide other types of auxiliary aids and services, including assistive listening devices, and qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters.
Can I Have a Lawyer Represent Me in Monroe County Small Claims?
In Monroe County, you are allowed to have a lawyer assist you and represent you in court. This decision is up to you to make, and although getting a lawyer seems like an obvious decision, legal fees can quickly add up. This shouldn’t discourage you from proceeding in small claims court on your own.
Just like you have the option of hiring a lawyer to represent you, the other party in your case does as well. In the case that both parties decide to have a lawyer represent them, the judge can move the case from small claims to civil court.
Is Small Claims Court My Only Option?
In Monroe County, the other option you have outside of small claims is mediation.
What is mediation, and how does the mediation process work?
Mediation is a meeting between you, the other party, and a neutral third person called a mediator.
Mediation is an effort to see if the parties can come to a mutually agreeable solution or settlement. The settlement can be for the same amount of money being claimed and can involve other non-monetary agreements between the parties. For example, you and the party you are suing can agree to a payment plan in your settlement.
Monroe County offers mediation for certain cases. Check with the courthouse you file in to see if your case can be mediated.
The mediator's role is to help you and the other party resolve your conflict. If you resolve your conflict, you don’t need to go in front of the judge.
You should still consider bringing all your evidence to work through your conflict with the other party and the mediator.
If you do not reach a settlement during mediation, you may continue with your court hearing in front of a judge.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia holds a J.D. degree and is a certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts.