|Small Claim Maximum||$10,000|
|Deadline to File||2 years – Security deposit disputes
5 years – Habitability, retaliation
|Filing Fee||Varies by court|
|Appeal Deadline||30 days|
Small Claims Court Basics in Illinois
Small Claims Court is an informal court designed for minor cases limited to a maximum claim amount. The plaintiff and defendant present their case to the judge, who makes a decision, unless either party requests a jury trial.
Common suits filed by landlords include:
- Recovery of unpaid rent
- Damages that exceed the amount of the security deposit
- Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
- Early termination of a lease
Common suits filed by tenants include:
- Failure to return the security deposit correctly
- Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
- Overcharging for damages
How Much Can You Sue For in Small Claims Court in Illinois?
In Illinois, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is $10,000.
To attempt to recover an amount of more than $10,000, the suit must be filed as a civil case in Circuit Court.
How Long Do You Have to File a Small Claim in Illinois?
You must file a landlord-tenant small claims case in Illinois within 2 or 5 years, depending on whether the law establishes predetermined damages (penal provision).
- 2 years – Penal provisions, such as claims regarding a security deposit
- 5 years – Remedial provisions, such as retaliation or habitability cases
Although there are rules for the statute of limitations in oral and written lease agreements, the courts have established the application of the two-year statute of limitations for a statutory penalty, like the return of a security deposit.
In Landis v. Marc Realty, L.L.C., the Illinois Supreme Court held that the two-year statute of limitations applied when a tenant with a written lease sought the return of their security deposit after four years because the applicable law establishes predetermined damages.
Are Lawyers Needed or Allowed in Small Claims Court in Illinois?
Small Claims Court is designed to be simple and not require an attorney in most situations. However, either party can be represented by an attorney if they so choose.
Corporations must be represented by an attorney except when the corporation is the defendant, any of the following can appear to defend the corporation:
- Department manager
Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Illinois?
In Illinois, Small Claims Court is a division of Circuit Court. The claim should be filed in Circuit Court in the county where the defendant lives or has an office or where the rental property is located.
You can use the Illinois court directory’s interactive map to find your local court.
How to File a Small Claims Case in Illinois
Step 1: Before filing a small claims case, a demand letter may be required. Check with your court clerk to determine if this step is required in your case.
For example, if you want to file a case for the return of a security deposit, you must send ademand letter before filing. You can draft your own letter or use Illinois Legal Aid Online’s security deposit demand letter Easy Form.
Illinois Legal Aid Online recommends that you send the letter by certified mail and then wait ten days after the landlord accepts it before filing a small claims case.
You should attach a copy of your demand letter and any other evidence you have to support your claim to the Complaint form.
Step 3: Register for an account with the e-Filing Portal.
Electronic filing is required unless you cannot access the electronic filing system or have difficulties with English. You can apply to waive the requirement by filing a Certification for Exemption from e-Filing so you can file in person.
Step 4: Log in and click Start a New Case.
Step 5: Using the step-by-step guide, enter the details for your case.
Step 6: Upload the Small Claims Complaint and Summons forms.
Step 7: Pay the filing fee.
How Much Does it Cost to File a Case in Small Claims Court in Illinois?
The fees for filing a case in Small Claims Court in Illinois are established by the Circuit Courts and typically vary depending on the claim amount. Many Circuit Courts post their filing fees on their website. You can use the Illinois court directory’s interactive map to find your local court’s website.
As an example, below are the filing fees for a few counties in Illinois.
- DuPage County ($123 or $298 depending on the claim amount)
- Lake County ($109 or $284 depending on the claim amount)
- Will County ($139 or $314 depending on the claim amount)
What if You Can’t Afford to File a Case?
You can still file a case if you cannot afford the fees by filing an Application for Waiver of Court Fees (see Filing Instructions). If the application is approved, the judge may agree to waive all fees or may require you to pay 25%, 50%, or 75% of the applicable fees.
Small Claims Court Process in Illinois
After filing a small claims case in Illinois the Complaint and Summons are served on the defendant. The court procedures vary from court to court, so check with the court clerk to determine what happens after the defendant has been served.
Step 1: Serve the defendant. After you have filed the small claims case, you will need to serve copies of the Complaint and Summons on the defendant.
Service on the defendant can be completed by:
- Certified mail by the court clerk
- Sheriff (by submitting a Letter to the Sheriff)
You can sometimes serve the defendant by a professional process server, licensed private detective, or anyone who is 18 years old or over and not a party to the case. Your court may require that you file a Motion to use this option. Check with the court clerk to determine their process for service.
Once the defendant is served, the person that completed service will submit a Proof of Service form to the court, which is page 3 of the Summons packet.
Step 2: Defendant files an Appearance. After accepting service of the Complaint and Summons, the defendant must pay an appearance fee and file an Appearance stating that they will attend the trial. The defendant may choose trial by judge or, by paying a fee, they may select a jury trial.
The small claims process after service on the defendant varies from court to court. Some courts will automatically schedule a trial after service, but some will not require you to be present on the defendant’s initial return date. Check with the court clerk to understand your obligations.
Step 3: Attend the trial. On the trial date, you should bring copies of any evidence you have to support your claim. The judge will give you and the defendant an opportunity to provide your arguments to the judge and the jury (if requested) before they decide to dismiss the case or issue a judgment.
If the defendant does not attend the trial, the judge will issue you a default judgment.
Winning a Small Claims Judgment in Illinois
If you win the judgment in Illinois, the other party may appeal the case, you may be paid the judgment within the allotted time period, or you may need to pursue additional actions to recover the debt.
If the defendant disagrees with the outcome of the trial, they have 30 days from the entry of the judgment to file an appeal by filing a Notice of Appeal.
When the judge issues the judgment, they will determine a time period for repayment, up to a maximum of three years. In the best case, the judgment debtor pays their debt within this period.
If the debtor is delinquent on their payment or refuses to pay, there are multiple court actions available to recover the debt. The most common methods of enforcing a judgment are bank or wage garnishment. To initiate these processes, you would need to file a case through the Circuit Court to discover the assets of the defendant.
A judgment gains interest at a rate of 9% annually. You have 7 years to collect a judgment before it expires. However, a Petition to Revive a judgment can be filed within 20 years of the issuance of the judgment.