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Should Your Case Be In Small Claims Court? Three Advantages & Disadvantages

Posted by Jeremy Shorts on December 12, 2009

Utah’s small claims courts can be a beautiful tool for landlords, but it must be used correctly.  If you file a case in small claims that really belongs in district court, the judge should dismiss your case.  If this happens, not only with you have wasted months of your time but you will also lose out on filing fees and other costs you’ve paid.  You’ll then have to begin the process all over again in district court.  It is important to understand when your case does not belong in small claims.

Small Claims Advantages…

There are several important advantages to using Utah’s small claims courts:

  • First – Speed. Small claims courts are usually MUCH faster compared to district court.  You can be sitting at a trial in small claims court within 2-3 months (depending on how busy the court is).  Most cases in district court take much longer than that.
  • Second – Savings. Filing fees are cheaper in small claims court, but the biggest cost savings is the time it takes to prepare a case for trial.  Because there is not a lengthy discovery process the time spent is kept to a minimum.  No depositions and no discovery requests.  It’s basically just the brief trial.
  • Third – Ease. Small claims intentionally cut out a lot of the formalities of the district court.  This is helpful to speed up the process and avoids additional and unnecessary time to resolve a case.

Whenever possible, I encourage my clients to consider small claims court for these reasons.

Small Claims Disadvantages…

On the other hand, there are times that your case should NOT be filed in small claims court.  Here are a few reasons:

  • First – No Evictions. Small claims courts lack jurisdiction to issue an order of restitution (granting the sheriff the right to physically remove a dead-beat tenant from the property).  If the tenant has not left the property, DO NOT file in small claims.  If the tenant leaves but still owed you past rents or other fees, small claims is probably the way to go.
  • Second – Limit of $10,000.00. Utah’s small claims courts cannot issue any judgments for damages over $10,000.  This means that your claim (consisting of money owed in rents, damages, attorney fees, interest, etc.) cannot exceed $10,000.  However, there are a few categories (filing fees and court costs) that are not included in the $10K cap.
    • What if your claim is for $11,000.00?  I often tell my clients that it is not worth the extra effort of being in district court to claim the other $1,000.  I personally believe that cases like this are often better served in small claims claiming $10,000.  The time and expense of district court will easily exceed the $1,000 in benefit you could receive by going to district court.  There is a chance that a judge may decide that it belongs in district court because of the $10,000 limit, but it’s worth a shot in my opinion.
  • Third – Complex Legal Issues. If your case is straight forward (i.e. the tenant owes past due rent after signing a written contract), small claims is probably the way to go.  However, if there are complex issues or significant factual disputes as to what actually happened, district court may be the best option.  District court is better equipped to handle these types of cases.  You are allowed to go through discovery process to address the complex aspects of your case.

And So…

When used properly, small claims is a great option for landlords who have a straight-forward case for a money judgment (no eviction) that is $10,000 or less.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Visit my website for free rental contracts and eviction forms: www.utahevictionlaw.com
Contact me for a free consultation.
Jeremy Shorts – Attorney at Law
Phone: 801-610-9879
Email: jeremy@utahevictionlaw.com

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