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San Mateo Small Claims Court

Camila Lopez - Courts - August 26, 2022

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    Have a Small Claims Court Case in San Mateo County or thinking of filing one? We have summarized the relevant information you need to know for when you go to the San Mateo Small Claims Court.

    Where is the San Mateo County Small Claims Court?

    While there are many courthouses in San Mateo County, the only one that conducts small claims court hearings is the San Mateo Superior Court.

    Here is the address:

    San Mateo Superior Court
    Hall of Justice & Records400 County Center
    Redwood City, CA 94063

    The building can be accessed via a courtyard off of Winslow Street or Hamilton Street.

    How do I contact the Small Claims Court Clerk?

    Need to contact the San Mateo Small Claims Court Clerk? Here is how:

    By Phone

    • (650) 261-5015

    • Phone hours are Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.


    • The San Mateo Small Claims Court Clerk is located on the

      1st floor of the building in Room A. Once you walk past security the Small Claims Court Clerk's office is past the escalators. The wait time ranges depending on what time you go and can be  20+ minutes.

    • Office Hours: Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

    Can I file my Small Claims Case in San Mateo County?

    You can always sue an individual San Mateo Small Claims Court if they live in San Mateo County. You can always sue a company in San Mateo Small Claims Court if their business is located in San Mateo County.

    You may be able to sue in San Mateo Small Claims in other situations. For example:

    • If you are suing about a car accident that occurred in San Mateo.

    • If you are suing about a security deposit and the leased premises are located in San Mateo.

    • If you are suing about damage to your house that occurred in San Mateo.

    • If you have an issue with your landlord returning the security deposit

      and the rented unit was in Redwood City, Foster City, San Bruno or anywhere in San Mateo County then you would be able to sue your landlord in San Mateo Small Claims Court (you would also be able to sue your landlord in the small claims court in the county where they live).

    If the defendant lives in the following cities/towns then you can sue in San Mateo Small Claims Court: Atherton, Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Colma, Daly City, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, South San Francisco, Woodside.

    What types of small claims cases can be filed?

    So long as there isn't another court better suited to hear the case, then the lawsuit can be filed in small claims. The most common types of small claims cases in San Mateo Small Claims Court are:

    • Landlord/Tenant disputes over the security deposit.

    • Landlord/Tenant disputes over early termination of the lease.

    • Unpaid rent.

    • Roommate disputes.

    • Disputes over loans.

    • Contracts (written and oral).

    • Auto accidents.

    • Disputes over auto repairs.

    • Disputes over remodeling or home repairs.

    • Damage caused to property.

    • Unpaid bills.

    How long do I have to File a Small Claims case in San Mateo County?

    • Do not wait to file your small claims court lawsuit! After an incident occurs, you only have a set period of time to file your lawsuit. Think of this as a deadline (called the

      statute of limitations). Once the deadline is reached, you cannot file your California Small Claims Court lawsuit.  

    • Read Common statutes of limitations for San Mateo Small Claims Court.

    How much can I sue for in San Mateo County Small Claims?

    This is also known as the "small claims court limits." In San Mateo Small Claims:

    • An individual or sole proprietor can sue for $10,000 or less.

    • A corporation or LLC can sue for $5,000 or less.

    What are the San Mateo Small Claims Court Filing Fees?

    The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit in San Mateo depends on how much you are suing for:

    • If you are suing for $1,500 or less, then your filing fee is $30.

    • If you are suing for more than $1,500 but less than or equal to $5,000, then your filing fee is $50.

    • If you are suing for more than $5,000 but less than or equal to $10,000, then your filing fee is $75.

    What are other costs for Small Claims Court?

    In most small claims cases, you can expect to pay:

    If you win your case, you can request that the losing party pay for "reasonable costs."

    San Mateo Small Claims Court Hearings

    When will the Small Claims Hearing be?

    • Once a case is filed in San Mateo Small Claims Court, the hearing will be scheduled within 20- 70 days.

    • You must serve the small claims lawsuit on the defendant at least 15 days before the hearing if the defendant lives or resides within San Mateo County. If the defendant resides outside of San Mateo County, you must serve them at least 20 days before the hearing.

    • Make sure to file "Proof of Service" at least 5 days before the hearing.  

    How to prepare for a Small Claims Court Hearing?

    You have filed your case and served the defendant. The next step is to start preparing for your San Mateo Small Claims Court hearing.

    • Research the law. If you are unsure about your case, consult an attorney, or conduct your own research about the law.

    • Prepare your evidence. Invoices, contracts, receipts, etc. You want to have your evidence organized with titles, dates, and why that piece of evidence is important. All your evidence should be geared towards showing the judge why you are correct.

    • Prepare what to say. During the hearing, the judge will ask the person suing why they are suing.  If you are being sued, you will be asked why you don't owe the other party money.  

    • Get your receipts for costs ready. For example, your filing fees and any process server costs. Make sure to let the judge know that you would like to be reimbursed for costs.  

    • Print enough copies of all your evidence. You will need at least three copies (one for you, one for the judge, one for the other side).

    What happens on the hearing date?

    Give yourself plenty of time.

    You do not want to be late for your hearing. Give yourself plenty of time for parking and navigating the courthouse.

    Where to Park Near the San Mateo Small Claims Court

    • Parking Structures.

      There are many parking structures right by the courthouse. It is recommended you park somewhere where you can stay for more than 2-Hours.

    • 2 Hour Street Parking.

      The streets around the courthouse are lined with 2 Hour Street Parking. If you need to speak with the small claims court clerk, 2-hour parking is a good option. However, if you have a hearing scheduled that day, you probably should not park in 2-hour parking to be on the safe side.

    Once You Walk into the Courthouse...

    • Once you walk in, the first thing you will see is airport-like security. You will need to put your belongings through the metal detector. You can bring in laptops and cellphones, unlike some courthouses.

    • Find the correct courtroom by checking the TV screens.

      On the 1st floor when you walk in, there are

      screens that list all the cases

      that will be heard that day. To locate which courtroom small claims court hearings will be held on that day, you need to look for your case number or locate cases with "sc" in their title. If you can't find it, go to the court clerk's office on the 1st floor.

    Once you arrive at the courtroom, locate your case on the paper schedule outside the courtroom door.

    • Outside of each courtroom, there will be a printed list of the cases that have hearings on that day.

    • You want to locate your case on the schedule. If you don't see your case listed, but you have received notice that your case will be heard that day, you may want to try and speak to the sheriff or clerk in the courtroom. If you are unable to speak to them, go down to the 1st floor to the small claims court clerk.

    • The courtroom doors will likely be locked until 1:30 pm.

    • Make sure to use that waiting time to organize your evidence or go to the restroom.

    • Once the courtroom is opened, the court clerk, sheriff, and judge will go through what to expect. You will be sitting in a room with other people who have filed small claims cases. You will get to watch the cases before yours.  

      Make sure you are in the courtroom when your case is called!

    Small Claims Mediation

    San Mateo County offers free mediation for small claims court cases. Free mediation for small claims is only available some days of the week.

    • What is mediation?

      Mediation is a meeting between both the plaintiff (the person suing) and the defendant (the person being sued) conducted by a neutral third-party (a mediator). The parties will meet with a mediator, discuss their case, and try to reach a mutually beneficial solution. Both parties must agree to mediation and it cannot be forced on them.

    • When will mediation occur?

      The court clerk, judge, or sheriff will announce if there are mediators available that day. Usually, the judge will tell the audience that if you opt for mediation, you can try to mediate the case while other hearings are being conducted. If you finish mediation early, then you get to "skip the line" and your case is processed faster.

    The Hearing

    If both parties show up:

    • Right before the hearing, the judge will ask the parties to show each other the evidence

      that they have brought with them.  

    • The Judge will ask the person who is suing why they are suing.

    • Then the person who is being sued will get to present their side of the story.

    • The hearing will last around 15 minutes.

    • The judge will ask the parties to show the judge the evidence they brought with them. Sometimes the judge will keep the evidence other times you will get the evidence right back.

    • Very rarely will a judge tell the parties their decision immediately after the hearing. Instead, the judge will tell the parties that the decision will be mailed to them (usually takes a few weeks to two months or so).

    If only the plaintiff shows up:

    • The plaintiff (the person who is suing) has to still prove their case. The plaintiff will have to tell the judge why they are suing and provide enough evidence.

    If only the defendant shows up:

    Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?

    • Attorneys are not allowed to represent parties at the initial hearing. If the defendant appeals the case, then attorneys are allowed to represent the parties at the appeal hearing.

    • You will not be able to hire a lawyer to represent you at the initial small claims court hearing.

    Access your Small Claims Lawsuit Files Online

    Did you know you can view and download filed documents for your Small Claims Court case in San Mateo County online? Documents you, the other party, or the court files, will appear in the online case docket.

    The online case docket consists of a list of "events" in the case. Each time you, the other party, or the court files a document, a new event is created. You are able to access the small claims court case docket for free.


    Camila Lopez

    Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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