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Guide to Onondaga County Small Claims Court

Claudia Diaz - New York Small Claims - February 24, 2023

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    Want to bring a small claims lawsuit in Onondaga County? Small claims courts can be a great option for everyday people trying to resolve their disputes in a cost-effective and quick manner.  In this guide, we review how to file a lawsuit in Onondaga County.

    Common Types of Onondaga County Small Claims Lawsuits

    You can bring a small claims lawsuit in Onondaga County small claims court as long as there is not a better court that can handle your lawsuit. For example, if you need to evict someone, you should go to Housing Court. 

    Here are common types of small claims lawsuits filed in Onondaga County small claims court:

    • You hire a contractor to fix the back deck of your Syracuse home, but they don’t show up. 

    • Your neighbor drove into your front lawn and caused property damage and doesn’t want to pay to fix the damages. 

    • You moved out of your North Syracuse apartment, and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit. 

    • You gave someone a loan, and they won’t pay back the loan amount. 

    • Your landlord refuses to fix your heater, so you have to buy a space heater for the winter. 

    • A moving company breaches a contract by not showing up at the scheduled moving date. 

    • Someone hit your car while you were driving in Camillus, and they refuse to pay for the damages.

    In Onondaga 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 took your car to an auto repair shop to fix the brakes. The mechanics take your payment but don’t perform the repairs. You can file a small claims lawsuit against them in Onondaga County to get your payment back, but the court can’t force them to perform the repairs. 

    Onondaga County Small Claims Limits

    There are two types of small claims courts in Onondaga County:

    • City Court

    • Town and Village Courts 

    The most important difference between these two courts is the amount you can sue for.

    • In Onondaga County city court, the maximum you can sue for is $5,000.

    • In Onondaga 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 Onondaga County small claims?

    You may need to sue in another type of court. However, remember that Onondaga County small claims courts are an affordable, fast, and efficient way for you to settle your dispute.  

    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.

    Onondaga County Small Claim Court Locations

    There is one City Court in Onondaga County that handles small claims cases for up to $5,000

    Syracuse City Court 

    505 South State Street 

    Room 130 

    Syracuse, New York 13202-2104

    Phone: 315-671-2782

    There are also dozens of towns and villages in Onondaga County. Most of these towns and villages have courts that also handle small claims. Use the New York Courts’ website to locate a specific town or village court near you. Remember, in Onondaga County town and village courts, the maximum amount you can sue for is $3,000.

    If the other party lives, works, or has an office in the following cities, towns, or villages, then you can sue in an Onondaga County small claims court: Apulia Station, Baldwinsville, Brewerton, Bridgeport, Camillus, Cicero, Clay, Delphi Falls, Dewitt, East Syracuse, Elbridge, Fabius, Fayetteville, Geddes, Jamesville, Jordan, Kirkville, La Fayette, Liverpool, Lysander, Manlius, Marcellus, Marietta, Memphis, Minoa, Mottville, Nedrow, Onondaga, Otisco, Plainville, Pompey, Salina, Skaneateles, Skaneateles Falls, Solvay, Spafford, Syracuse, Tully, Van Buren, Warners. 

    How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue For?

    We get this question from our clients frequently, so we know it can be tricky. 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 to help you calculate how much to sue for: 

    • Use receipts. For example, you hired a contractor to fix the heating in your home. The contractors, however, improperly worked on your heaters, so you still need to get them fixed. Review any invoices the contractors provided and sue for however much you paid.  

    • 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 Onondaga County Small Claims?

    If you are an individual suing another individual or business in Syracuse 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 suing on behalf of a corporation, association, or partnership, 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 an Onondaga 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. Call the court clerk in the court you are filing your small claims lawsuit in to confirm any steps you need to take to apply for a fee waiver. 

    Is it Worth it to Sue Someone in Onondaga County Small Claims?

    This is a personal question that only you can answer. We see most of our clients use a cost v. benefit analysis when figuring out if they should sue someone in small claims court. 

    Here is how some of our clients measure the cost v. benefit of going to small claims:

    • Cost. Spending $20 to get back $1,000 is very affordable. Remember, in small claims court, you can represent yourself, so you don’t have to consider how you will pay attorney’s fees or if attorney’s fees will be too expensive. 

    • 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. People Clerk helps you figure out the small claims process from home. 

    • Justice. For some, getting compensation for someone else's wrongs is not the only reason to sue them. Sometimes just knowing you are deterring someone from hurting others as they hurt you is enough. 

    Statute of Limitations

    Statute of limitations are deadlines that let you know by when you should file a small claims lawsuit in Onondaga 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.

    Learn about the New York Statute of Limitations with our article here. 

    Here are some common questions we see people ask 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.

    • Why should I not wait to file my Onondaga County small claims lawsuit? It is not recommended that you wait to file your small claims lawsuit for a variety of reasons. (1) You may need more time if you file the first time incorrectly, (2) you may lose evidence the longer you wait, and (3) you begin to lose credibility the more you wait, which may put the judge on alert. 

    What to Do Before You File in Onondaga County Small Claims?

    Here are some steps you can take before you file a small claims suit:

    1. Consider sending a demand letter. 

    2. Decide where to file the lawsuit.

    3. Determine who needs to sue (the "claimants").

    4. Determine who you need to sue (the "defendants").

    5. Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit.

    Consider Sending a Demand Letter

    If you are filing as an individual in Onondaga County small claims court, you arenot required to send a demand letter before filing. 

    However, here are at least three good reasons why you should send a demand letter before filing a small claims lawsuit in Onondaga County:

    1. When you send a demand letter, you are likely to be taken more seriously by the other party. 

    2. 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. 

    3. By sending a demand letter, you may be able to settle the case without having to pay court costs.  

    If you are suing on behalf of a corporation, partnership, or association (known as a commercial claim), and you are suing an individual based on a consumer transaction, there are different rules to follow: 

    • A consumer transaction involves a transaction between you (the corporation, partnership, or association) and an individual for “money, property, or service which is the subject of the transaction is primarily for personal, family or household purposes.” See UCT 1801-A(b)

    • You are required to mail a demand letter at least 10 days before filing. 

    • You may need to include a copy of your demand letter with the lawsuit when you file. 

    Figure Out in Which Court to File Your Onondaga County Small Claims Lawsuit 

    The Syracuse City Court is the only Onondaga County City Court that handles small claims cases. However, there are various town and village Justice Courts that also handle small claims cases. Before going to your nearest Onondaga County small claims court to file your small claims lawsuit, take some time to figure out “jurisdiction.” Jurisdiction is a legal term that means the court has “authority” over the other party. 

    To sue someone in Syracuse City Court, the other party must live, work or have an office in Onondaga County.  Additionally, if you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located in Onondaga County as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit. See Uniform City Court Act (UCT) Chapter 497, Article 18. 

    To sue someone in an Onondaga County town or village Justice Court, the other party must live, work, or have an office in that Onondaga County town or village. Just as with City Court, there are additional rules for suing a landlord. if you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located in that Onondaga County town or village as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit. See 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 Onondaga County to be sued in Onondaga 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”)

    The person or business filing the lawsuit is called the claimant in Onondaga 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.

    Consider the following tips: 

    • If you are suing over a security deposit, make sure to include your roommates. For example, you and your roommate just moved out of a rental unit in East Syracuse. When you both moved in, you had to pay a $2,000 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.

    • If you are suing because of a car accident, make sure to include the registered owner of the car. For example, you were driving your brother’s car, and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $3,000 to fix the car. Your brother should be included in the lawsuit since they are the registered owner.

    • If you are unsure 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.

    Determine Who You Need to Sue (the “Defendants”)

    Generally speaking, the person or business being sued is called the defendant in Onondaga County small claims court. Ask yourself, who is responsible for what happened to me?

    Determining who to sue is trickier, so consider the following tips: 

    • 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 Onondaga 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 Onondaga County small claims:

    • You will need their full legal name and their Onondaga 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. 

    • Note, you cannot add a P.O. Box address on your small claims forms.

    • 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 Onondaga County small claims:

    • Unfortunately, most people don't spend the time figuring out the correct information to list on their Onondaga County small claims lawsuit when suing a business. Don’t make this same mistake! 

    • You may want to narrow down a business’s official legal name before suing them in Onondaga 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 ABC Roofers to fix a leak in your roof. ABC Roofers never shows up to do the work, so you decide to sue them in Onondaga County small claims. You first need to determine whether ABC Roofers is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Roofers.

    • Many businesses also do business using a name other than their official legal name. This is called an “assumed name,”"dba," "fictitious business name,” or “trade name.”

    • Search for a business's assumed name on the Department of State website. Or search for a business’s dba in the County Clerk’s office in the county where it does business (where they have a location). 

    • 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. It is very important you sue the correct legal entity because if you win, you want to be able to collect your money judgment. 

    How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Onondaga County Small Claims Court 

    Generally, there are about 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Onondaga County:

    1. Prepare the lawsuit.

    2. File the lawsuit.

    3. Serve the lawsuit.

    4. Prepare for the small claims hearing.

    We break down each one of these steps below. 

    Preparing Your Small Claims Lawsuit 

    To prepare your forms for Syracuse City Court, go in person or call the court and ask for the appropriate forms. 

    • If you are filing as an individual, you will need to fill out the small claims forms

    • If you are filing a lawsuit on behalf of a corporation, association, or partnership, you will need to ask for the commercial claims forms

    Once you prepare the forms, you will need to file them with the court. People Clerk can help you file your Syracuse City Court lawsuit. 

    Filing Your Small Claims Lawsuit

    You can submit the Onondaga County small claims forms in person or by mail. Unfortunately, you can’t file your Onondaga small claims lawsuit online (sometimes referred to as e-filing or electronic filing). 

    When filing, consider the following: 

    • 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 

    Being prepared for the small claims hearing is the key to winning your case. To prepare for your Onondaga County small claims court hearing:

    • Research the law. It is generally good practice to know which laws support your claims before going to the hearing. For example, if your claim is about a security deposit, consider researching security deposit laws in New York. At this stage, you can also consider consulting with an attorney to address any questions or doubts you may have.

    • Prepare your evidence. This means having your evidence ready to go with dates and titles so you can easily reference each piece at trial. For example, if you are claiming someone damaged your property, you should have pictures (preferably with dates) of the property in question. People Clerk can help you organize your evidence into a judge-friendly packet.  

    • 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.

    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. For example, if you or a witness do not speak English well, you can tell the clerk when you file your lawsuit that you will need an official interpreter. 

    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.

    Can I Have a Lawyer Represent Me in Onondaga County Small Claims?

    You are allowed to have a lawyer represent you in Onondaga County small claims courts. Ultimately, the 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. Remember, small claims courts were designed with simplified procedures of evidence so people could represent themselves if they wished to do so. 

    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 Onondaga County, the other option you have outside of small claims is mediation. Mediation is a meeting between you, the other party, and a neutral third person called a mediator. 

    How does the mediation process work? 

    • Mediation is used to help parties come to a mutually agreeable solution or settlement. It provides the parties with the opportunity to communicate with each other while the mediator facilitates the conversation. Note, the mediator is not there to make a decision on your case. You and the other party can come to a settlement only if you wish to. 

    • 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.  

    • Onondaga County may offer mediation for certain cases. Check with the courthouse you file in to see if your case can be mediated. 

    • You can bring in any evidence you have to the mediation. This is so the mediator can understand your case better and the other party can see why you brought a case against them and why they owe you money. 

    • If you reach a settlement agreement, you don’t need to go in front of the judge. 

    • If you do not reach a settlement during mediation, don’t worry! You can continue with your court hearing in front of a judge.


    Claudia Diaz

    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.

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