Before you start
Cancel the case if you reach an agreement
Sometimes, the other side will reach out to you to see if you can come up with an agreement before your court date. If you do agree, you can write up the agreement and ask the court to cancel (dismiss) your case.
If you don't have an agreement, research defenses
Both the landlord and the tenant should review the possible defenses a tenant may use to explain why they don't owe the money. A tenant should find out if they have a defense. The landlord should be prepared to respond if the tenant uses one of these defenses.
How to get ready for your court date (trial)
Gather the evidence you need and send it to the court
If you're the landlord
You'll want to bring proof of any amount that is owed. For example, a copy of
- Any lease or rental agreement
- Any communications (like emails) from your tenant about rent owed
- Any bills sent or receipts of any payments you received
If you're the tenant
You'll want to bring any evidence that shows you don't owe the money or you owe less than what the landlord says. For example, receipts of what you've paid if your landlord didn't give you credit for it. You need these to prove you have a defense or reason you don't owe that amount of money.
If your hearing will be remote (like on the computer or on the phone), then you need to find out how to get your evidence to the court. Contact the small claims clerk to find out how to turn your papers into the court. You'll also need to send them to the other side before the court date.
Get any witnesses or evidence you need
Once you figure out what proof you need for your court date, you may need the court to order someone to:
- Send the information to the court for the other side and judge to see
- Come to court to talk to the judge about your case
You only need this court order (a subpoena) if you can't get the information or the person to come to court voluntarily.
Ask for court services (if needed)
How to ask for an interpreter
If you don't speak or understand English very well, you can ask for a free interpreter for your court date. In many courts, you fill out and turn in a Request for Interpreter (Civil) (form INT-300). Other courts use a different form. Contact your court to find out how to ask for an interpreter.
How to ask for an accommodation for a disability
To ask for an accommodation, fill out a Disability Accommodation Request (form MC-410). Turn the form in to your court's ADA coordinator at least 5 days before your court date.
Watch a small claims case
If you have time, go to court and watch some court hearings.
See if the landlords and tenants are offered in-court mediation, how the judge talks to the people, what questions they ask, how they go back and forth between the sides so they can tell their stories, and how much time you may have to give the judge your side of the story.
Make copies and organize your papers
Make copies. Have a copy of the any papers you filed for yourself, a copy for the judge, and a copy for the other side.
Organize the papers so if the judge asks to see something you can find it easily. For example, if the judge wants to see your receipt for the car’s bodywork, you can easily find it and give the judge and the other side a copy and still have one to look at yourself.
You won’t have time to look for papers in a stack while at your hearing. Some people think it’s helpful to have their paperwork in a 3-ring notebook or an “accordion” file that has dividers in it.
Plan what you're going to say
Look over anything filed in the case so you’re ready to talk about it all when you go to court.
Think ahead about what the other side might say in court so you’re ready to answer clearly and as quickly as possible.
Practice how you’ll tell your side of the story or respond to what the other side says so you can say what you need to as quickly and clearly as possible.
Create a list of everything you asked for and why so you can look at it in court to make sure you talk about everything you want to.
Arrange for child care and time off work
You may be in court for 4 or more hours.
Find where parking is, how traffic will be, and where your courtroom is before the hearing so you won’t be late.
After you've made your lists, find out what to expect on your day in court.