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In Texas, small claims lawsuits are filed in Justice of the Peace Courts (referred to as Justice Courts). These small claims courts were designed to handle minor disputes or claims (for up to $20,000) between two parties, without the need for an attorney. These courts are intended to provide an inexpensive, simple, and fast way for individuals or businesses to resolve disputes.
Did you know People Clerk can help you with Texas small claims? Learn more.
Quick Facts About Small Claims Texas
Small Claims Limit
$20,000 (including attorney’s fees)
Cost to File
Cost to Serve
Can a lawyer represent me?
Some courts have the option to attend the hearing virtually.
Deadline to file
Statute of limitations apply to small claims cases.
You can potentially pay $0 for serving and filing fees if you are eligible for a waiver of costs.
Common Types of Claims Brought to Texas Small Claims Court
Here are common types of small claims lawsuits filed in Texas small claims court:
You hired a contractor to renovate your home, and they never show up.
You lent someone a personal loan, and they didn’t pay you back.
Your neighbor damaged your mailbox and refuses to pay for the damages.
You purchased a defective item from a store, and the store refuses to provide a replacement or refund.
You moved out of your apartment, and your landlord hasn’t returned your security deposit.
You own a small business, and one of your customers hasn’t paid outstanding invoices.
You own an apartment complex, and one of your tenants refuses to pay rent.
Your roommate moved out of your apartment and took your personal belongings.
Please note that you can file other types of cases that are not small claims in Texas Justice Courts. For example, evictions are also handled in Texas Justice Courts courts and require you to fill out specific forms that are different than the small claims forms. See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 500.3.
Texas Small Claims Limits
The small claims “limits” determine how much you can sue for in Texas small claims court. The small claims limit is up to $20,000.
In Texas Justice Courts, you can recover more than just money damages. The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 500.3 allows people suing for small claims matters to recover:
personal property, and
other relief allowed by law.
For example, if your ex-boyfriend took your car and refuses to return it, you can file a small claims lawsuit against them to recover your car.
Texas Small Claim Court Locations
Each County in Texas will have several different Justice Courts locations. In Texas, these courthouse locations are called “Precincts,” so each county will have several Justice Court Precincts where you may be able to file a small claims lawsuit.
You may also see that a Precinct has more than one Justice of the Peace (or judge) operating in their own “Place.” For example, in Harris County, there is a Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 1, and Place 2. These two places have their own judge who handles small claims lawsuits.
How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue For?
Calculating how much to sue for can get tricky. For the most part, when taking someone to small claims, you should win what you are owed (and maybe court costs or attorney’s fees) if the judge agrees that you should win. At the hearing, the judge will want to know how you calculated the amount you are suing for.
Here are some tips for calculating how much to sue for:
Use receipts. For example, you hired a contractor to remodel your kitchen. The contractor improperly worked on your kitchen, and you need to buy a new sink. Use the receipt for the new sink to determine how much the contractor owes you for the bad work.
Use estimates. For example, you hired a mechanic to fix your car’s engine, but they damaged other parts of your car. Look for estimates from other mechanics to figure out how much it will cost to repair the damages caused by the first mechanic.
How Much Does it Cost to Sue in Texas Small Claims?
What if you cannot afford to pay your filing fees?
If you are low-income and cannot afford to pay filing costs, you can apply for a waiver of your court fees.
You will need to call the court where you are filing your lawsuit and ask for an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Costs or a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs. See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 502.3.
Is it Worth it to Sue Someone in Texas Small Claims?
Figuring out if it is worth filing a small claims lawsuit is something only you can decide. To help you make this determination consider making a cost-versus-benefit analysis.
Here is how some of our clients measure the cost v. benefit of going to small claims:
Cost. Filing costs are relatively cheap for small claims. You may also be awarded court costs and attorney’s fees. This means the other party has to pay your court costs, any fees you may have incurred for hiring an attorney, and your money damages!
How soon will you find out whether you won? The good thing about small claims court is that you could find out the judge’s decision at end of your hearing. If not, you may only need to wait a couple of weeks to receive the judge’s decision.
Likelihood of winning or settling your case. Just as with regular courts, many small claims lawsuits settle before the hearing, which means you could get your money back more quickly.
Time and effort spent. Because of our current court system, it is hard to calculate how much time you will spend on a lawsuit. 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. Luckily People Clerk can help you prepare and file your small claims lawsuit from home while we take care of the logistics.
Justice. We understand that for some people, it isn’t about time, effort, or even money. You may be going to court to find justice for yourself, and to deter an individual or business from harming more people.
What are the Deadlines for Texas Small Claims Court?
Statute of limitations, are deadlines, that let you know by when you need to file a small claims lawsuit. In Texas, the statute of limitations can range anywhere from 1-5 years. The statute of limitations is the same for a small claims lawsuit as for other types of lawsuits in Texas.
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 and breach of contract cases.
Here are some common questions our clients ask us 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 Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 16.002(a) for your type of claim, or (3) let the judge decide at the hearing.
Why should I file my small claims lawsuit right away? There are several reasons you should file your lawsuit as quickly as possible: (1) You may need more time in case you file your lawsuit incorrectly the first time around, (2) You may lose evidence the longer you wait, (3) You begin to lose credibility the more you wait, and the judge will want to know why you waited so long to file.
What To Do Before You File a Texas Small Claims Case?
Here are some steps you can take before you file a small claims suit:
Consider sending a demand letter.
Decide where to file the lawsuit.
Determine who needs to sue.
Determine who you need to sue.
Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit.
Consider Sending a Demand Letter
In general, you should send a demand letter before filing a small claims lawsuit. While in some situations, you are not required to send a demand letter, the rules around this can be very nuanced. Ultimately, by sending a demand letter, you are asking the other party to resolve the dispute without having to go to court, which can save you both time and money.
Here are some other reasons to send a demand letter:
A demand letter signals to the other party that you are serious about the dispute and willing to take action to resolve the problem.
The judge in your case may ask you at your small claims hearing if you sent the other party a demand letter. By sending a written demand letter, there is a record of your attempt to settle that you can demonstrate to the judge.
Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a demand letter? Check out our demand letter tool.
Decide Where to File the Lawsuit
In Texas, it is important you file your small claims lawsuit in the proper Justice Court location. This means you need to file in the correct Texas county and precinct.
To sue an individual:
You can always sue in the precinct in the county where they live. But you may have other options. For example, for contracts, you can also sue in the precinct in the county where the contract was going to be performed. See Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chptr 15, Subchapter E Sec. 15.002.
To sue a business:
You can sue where the event you are suing about happened;
You can sue where the corporation, association, or company has an agency or representative; or
You can sue where the principal office (headquarters) of the corporation, association, or company is located.
Here are some questions our clients frequently ask us about where to file:
Why can't all courts have authority over the other party? Because this is what your elected officials decided was fair.
What happens if I file in the wrong small claims court? You may still be able to file your lawsuit, this will be up to the judge to decide. You may not find out until the hearing that you filed your lawsuit in the wrong court. This means the court may close your case, and you will have to refile in the right court. This is risky because if the court decides 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. To avoid this, file in the court that benefits the other party the most (where they live or have their office).
Determine Who Needs to Sue
The person, or business suing is usually referred to as the claimant or plaintiff in Texas small claims court. Deciding who needs to be included in the lawsuit shouldn’t be a hard determination. Ask yourself, who is owed money? Anyone who is owed money should be included in the lawsuit.
When in doubt, 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:
You and your roommate gave your landlord a $2,000 security deposit. You both moved out, and your landlord has not returned the security deposit. Both you and your roommate are owed the money, so the judge will want to make sure you both are part of the lawsuit.
You were driving your friend’s car, and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $1,000 to fix the car. Your friend should be included in the lawsuit since she is the registered owner.
Determine Who You Need to Sue
The person or business being sued is called the defendant.
Ask yourself, who is responsible for what happened to me or who owes me money?
Here are some tips for determining who you need to sue:
Security deposit lawsuits. Do not make common mistakes like suing the property management company and not the landlord in a security deposit case. You want to make sure you sue the person or business listed on your lease or rental agreement as they are the one holding on to your security deposit, plus anyone else you also think is responsible.
Car accident lawsuits. You want to make sure to include the driver of the car that is responsible for hitting your car as well as the owner of the car (if it is not the same person). For example, I observed a small claims case where a judge asked the party suing for property damage from a car accident why they hadn’t included the owner of the car (the defendant was only the driver).
Make Sure to Have the Information You Will Need to Prepare the Small Claims Lawsuit
As you are getting ready to take someone to small claims, you want to ensure you have the correct information for the person or business you are suing.
Suing an individual in small claims:
You will need their full legal name and an address where they can be notified (“served”) of the lawsuit once it has been filed. For example, this can be the address where the individual lives.
What happens if I don't have an address associated with the person I am suing? You will need to find this information before suing them. Try looking on Google, or Linkedin, or consider having someone run a report called a "Skip Trace" that looks for their information on different databases.
Suing a business in small claims:
Spend the time to figure out the correct business information to list on your Texas small claims lawsuit.
You may want to narrow down a business’s official legal name before suing them in 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 may not have to be), which means that you are suing an individual and not a business. For example, you paid ABC Window Cleaners to clean your home’s windows. ABC Window Cleaners never show up, so you decide to file a small claims lawsuit against them in Texas Justice Court. You first need to determine whether ABC Window Cleaners is a corporation, partnership, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Window Cleaners.
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 and legal information on the Texas Secretary of State website.
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. This is important because you want to be able to collect any money judgments from the correct business.
How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Texas Small Claims Court
Generally, there are 5 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Texas:
Prepare the lawsuit.
File the lawsuit.
Serve the lawsuit.
Wait for the other party’s Answer.
Prepare for the hearing.
We break down each one of these steps below.
Did you know People Clerk can help you with Texas small claims? Learn more.
Step 1: Prepare the Lawsuit
To prepare your Texas small claims lawsuit, you will need to fill out the correct forms provided by the court. Usually, the forms you need to fill out will consist of a Small Claims Petition form but may also include other forms. Each precinct has different forms.
Step 2: File the Lawsuit
Most of the Justice Courts allow you to file your small claims lawsuit through different methods:
In-person. You can go to the court you wish to file your small claims lawsuit and file the forms with a court clerk in person.
Online. Many of the Justice Courts allow e-filing or electronic filing.
By mail. Some courts will allow you to mail in your forms and payment to the courthouse location.
Also, make sure to double-check how the court accepts payments of filing fees. Most Texas small claims courts accept cash, credit cards, or money orders, but they may not take other forms of payment (and methods for payment may vary depending on how you are filing your case).
Step 3: Serve the Lawsuit
Once you have filed your small claims lawsuit, the court will generate a citation (an official court paper that states when the hearing will be) that you will have to use to notify the other party that they have been sued. This process of notifying the other party that they have been sued is called serving or service of process.
Who can serve the lawsuit?
Not you. You cannot serve the lawsuit papers yourself.
A process server. A process server is an individual licensed to serve your lawsuit documents. They are experts at serving court documents.
The sheriff or constable. Generally, the court will generate the citation and provide the sheriff or constable in the county with that citation to serve the other party. The fees for this type of service can be found on the courts’ websites. It can get complicated to use the sheriff or constable if you are serving a business that is outside the county you are suing in.
Step 4: The Other Party’s Answer
Once the other party has been served, they will have to file an Answer with the court 14 days after they were served.
An Answer is the defendant’s written response, denying or accepting the claims you made in the small claims lawsuit.
You will receive a copy of the other party’s answer. Make sure to review it in detail once you receive it.
Step 5: Prepare for the Hearing
To prepare to win your Texas small claims lawsuit:
Research the law. As a general practice, it is always good to read up on any laws that can support your claim. At this stage, you can choose to consult an attorney if you would like. For example, if you are suing your landlord for the return of your security deposit, you should research Texas security deposit laws.
Prepare your evidence. Make sure to collect and organize all potential evidence that can be used to support your claim; it is your responsibility to prove to the judge why and how much the other party owes you. This can include invoices, contracts, receipts, etc. For example, if you purchased a defective product from a seller on Facebook Marketplace, you should include any correspondence or photos of the product as part of your evidence. People Clerk can help you organize your evidence for your Texas small claims hearing.
Prepare what you will say. At the hearing, the judge will ask both you and the other party to testify about the facts of your case. This means you need to say your side of the story to the judge. Be prepared to answer questions like (1) why you are suing the other party, (2) how much you are suing them for, and (3) how you calculated that amount.
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.
Optional Step: Discovery
In Texas Justice Court, you are allowed to request documents or information from the other party before your hearing. This is referred to as discovery. Discovery helps you prepare for the hearing so that you can prove your case.
More likely than not, you won’t need to request discovery because you will be able to review the other parties' evidence before the judge gets to see it (generally, there are no surprises like you see in movies). So while discovery is an option, it isn’t something most people rely on in small claims.
What Accommodations Can the Court Provide?
The court can provide ADA and other reasonable accommodations you may need while pursuing justice in court. The court may also be able to provide other accommodations like official court interpreters. Call the court you are filing your small claims lawsuit to confirm what resources are available for you.
Can I Have a Lawyer Represent Me in Texas Small Claims?
Yes, a lawyer can represent you in Texas small claims, or you can also choose to represent yourself. Ultimately, this decision is yours to make, and although getting a lawyer seems like an obvious decision, legal fees can add up quickly.
Is Small Claims Court My Only Option?
If you do not wish to file a Texas small claims lawsuit, you have other options available to you.
Consider Filing a Complaint With a Government Agency
In Texas, there are a couple of government agencies that allow consumers to file complaints against businesses and individuals. Below we have included some of the main government agencies that handle complaints.
Texas Attorney General
The Texas Attorney General is the top legal officer in Texas with various divisions. One of the divisions inside the Office of the Texas Attorney General is the Consumer Protection Division. They handle complaints against businesses that are engaging in unfair or unlawful business practices within the state.
Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation
The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, known as the TDLR, is a government agency in Texas that gives out licenses and monitors business practices in Texas. For example, you can file a complaint using the TDLR against an electrician, a barber, licensed breeders, etc. Go here for a comprehensive list of programs licensed and regulated by TDLR.
To submit a complaint, use the link here.
Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner
The Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (“OCCC”) regulates the credit industry and educates consumers and creditors in Texas. Some of the businesses regulated by the OCCC are finance companies, pawnshops, payday lenders, and retailers who provide financing for their goods (including motor vehicle and manufactured home dealers). The OCCC also assists consumers with complaints against these businesses if they have experienced fraud, deceptive business practices, misrepresentation, etc.
To submit a complaint with the OCCC, call the consumer assistance helpline at 800-538-1579 or submit a complaint online.
Mediation is available in most Texas Justice Courts as a form of alternative dispute resolution. 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.
How does the mediation process work?
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 (like payment plans).
Most Texas counties have Alternative Dispute Resolution centers that offer mediation for Justice Court cases like small claims cases. Check with the courthouse you file in to see if your case can mediate your case.
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.
Did you know People Clerk can help you with Texas small claims? Learn more.
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.