Using Small Claims Court

Using Small Claims Court
Small Claims Court is a simplified court where disagreements between landlords and tenants over money can be resolved. Designed to help people recover money due them without having to hire a lawyer, this procedure is informal and inexpensive. Anyone at least 18 years of age with a genuine and reasonable complaint can sue in Small Claims Court. The complaint must be your own; one cannot sue on behalf of a friend. If the party is under 18, or under guardianship, a parent or legal guardian can sue on his or her behalf. Although lawyers are generally not necessary in Small Claims Court, either party may bring one if they choose to. One can sue for up to $3,500.

A tenant may sue a landlord in Small Claims Court, for example, to get back a security deposit or recover for damage to the tenant’s property caused by the landlord. A landlord may sue the tenant to recover, for example, rent that is owed or for property damage not covered by the security deposit. A landlord cannot use Small Claims Court to evict a tenant. For that he or she must go through the regular Superior Court process. (See Chapter 5, Evictions)

To begin a small claims suit contact the Superior Court for your county, found in the phone book under State of Vermont Courts. There is a filing fee of $35 for claims of $500 or less, and $60 for claims over $500. If you are low-income and cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you may ask to have the fee waived by filling out a form called an “Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis”, which is available at any court. The fee is generally recoverable from the other party if you win, and so should be added to the claim. In addition, if a tenant seeks to recover double the security deposit in a case where the landlord willfully withheld the deposit, this should also be added to the claim.

Anyone who is sued in Small Claims Court may file a counterclaim if she or he can raise genuine good faith arguments that he or she is owed money by the person filing the original suit. For example, if a tenant sues a former landlord for the return of a security deposit, the landlord could file a counterclaim for damages the landlord thinks the tenant caused. To file a counterclaim a person being sued can fill out and submit to the court a counterclaim form that they will receive with documents notifying them of the suit against them. A counterclaim should be filed at the same time the answer to the original claim is filed. The filing fee for counterclaims is $15 if the counterclaim is for less than $500, and $25 if it is for more than $500. These fees can also be waived for people with low incomes.

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