North Carolina Small Claims Court Process

North Carolina Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: January 5, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the court
Deadline to File 3 years – Written or oral lease agreement, statutory penalty
Filing Fee $96
Appeal Deadline 10 days

Small Claims Court Basics in North Carolina

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.

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 Long Does the Small Claims Court Process Take in North Carolina?

A typical small claims case in North Carolina takes one to two months, from the date of filing, but can be longer if there are problems serving the defendant, the trial is continued, or other delays occur.

How Much Can You Sue For in Small Claims Court in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the court. Check with your court clerk to determine the small claim limit in your county.

To attempt to recover a higher amount, the suit must be filed as a civil case in District Court.

How Long Do You Have to File a Small Claims Case in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, you have up to 3 years from the date of the dispute to file a small claims case for the violation of a lease agreement or a statutory penalty.

Are Lawyers Needed or Allowed in Small Claims Court in North Carolina?

Small Claims Court is designed to be simple and not require an attorney. However, either party can be represented by an attorney if they so choose.

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, small claims are filed in the District Court where the defendant lives. To determine the correct District Court, you can visit the court directory.

How to File a Small Claims Case in North Carolina

Step 1: Complete the small claims forms by using the fillable PDFs or the online questionnaire to generate and download completed forms:

Step 2: Print the forms and gather documentation to support your case to attach to the Complaint. Small claims cases are filed in person in North Carolina. The number of copies required for filing a small claims case varies depending on the court so check with the court clerk before filing.

Typically, the following copies are required:

  • 3 copies of the Complaint for Money Owed
  • 3 copies of the Magistrate Summons
  • 2 copies of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Declaration

Step 3: File the forms at the Office of the Clerk of Superior Court Small Claims Division in the county where the defendant lives.

Step 4: Pay the filing fee.

How Much Does it Cost to File a Case in Small Claims Court in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, the cost to file a small claims case is $96.

What if You Can’t Afford to File a Case?

You can still file a case if you cannot afford the fees by filing a Petition to Proceed as an Indigent.

Small Claims Court Process in North Carolina

After filing a small claims case in North Carolina the case is scheduled for a trial within 30 days and the Complaint and Summons are served on the defendant.

Step 1: Service on the Defendant. Service on the defendant can be completed by:

  • Plaintiff by sending the documents by certified or registered mail with a return receipt and submitting an Affidavit of Service of Process to the court
  • Sheriff by paying a fee, typically $30 (service by sheriff is requested with the court clerk or at the sheriff’s office, depending on the county)

Step 2: 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 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 North Carolina

If you win the judgment in North Carolina, 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.

Either party can appeal the decision by filing a Notice of Appeal within 10 days after the issuance of the judgment.

When the judge issues the judgment, they will determine a time period for repayment. 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, you can recover the debt through bank or other asset garnishment or seizure of property.

You have 10 years to collect or renew a judgment before it expires. A judgment collects interest at a rate of 8% per year unless a contract specifies a different rate.