South Carolina Small Claims Court Process

South Carolina Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: January 27, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $7,500
Deadline to File 3 Years
Filing Fees $70 (+$10 for service on defendant)
Appeal Deadline 30 Days

Small Claims Court Basics in South 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 a magistrate, 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 Long Does the Small Claims Court Process Take in South Carolina?

A typical small claims case in South Carolina takes two to three 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 South Carolina?

In South Carolina, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is $7,500.

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

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

The time limit for filing a small claims case in South Carolina is 3 years for most landlord-tenant disputes:

  • Breach of a lease agreement
  • Violation of law (with or without a statutory penalty)
  • Property damage

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

In South Carolina, small claims are filed in Magistrate Court in the county where the defendant lives or where the rental property is located.

However, if the defendant is a domestic corporation in South Carolina, the claim may be filed where the corporation’s place of business is located.

To determine the correct Magistrate Court, you can use the court map.

How to File a Small Claims Case in South Carolina

Step 1: Complete a Complaint form. Attach any documents you have to support your claim (e.g. lease agreement, apartment photos).

You can also file an Affidavit and Itemization of Accounts, although it is not required. The form allows the magistrate to issue a default judgment in some situations without the need for a default judgment hearing.

Step 2: File the Complaint in person with the court clerk. Check with the court clerk to determine how many copies are required. The filing procedures vary by court.

Step 3: Pay the filing fee.

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

In South Carolina, the filing fee for a small claims case is $70 plus $10 if the court performs service on the defendant.

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 Motion and Affidavit to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.

Small Claims Court Process in South Carolina

After filing a small claims case in South Carolina, the court clerk will issue a Summons, and the Complaint and Summons forms are served on the defendant.

Step 1: Serve the defendant.  After you have filed the Complaint, you will need to serve the defendant. In most counties, you can pay $10 to have the court handle service on the defendant, and in some courts, it is required.

Check with the court clerk to determine what methods of service are permitted.

Step 2: Defendant’s Answer or Counterclaim. Once the defendant has received the Summons, they must file an Answer or Counterclaim within 30 days.

Once the defendant files their response, the court will schedule a trial. If the defendant fails to respond, and an Affidavit and Itemization of Accounts was filed, the magistrate will issue a default judgment.

If an Affidavit and Itemization of Accounts was not filed with the Complaint, the magistrate will schedule a default judgment hearing to confirm the amount claimed before issuing a default judgment.

Step 3: Gather evidence and witnesses. Gather all physical evidence you may have to support your case and ensure that any witnesses are available to attend the trial. For example, you may ask the apartment manager to serve as a witness to how clean you left the apartment after moving out.

You may need to subpoena a witness if you are unable to get them to attend voluntarily by filing and serving the defendant a Subpoena.

Step 4: Attend the trial. On the trial date, you should bring copies of any evidence you have to support your claim. The magistrate will give you and the defendant an opportunity to provide your arguments before they decide to dismiss the case or issue a judgment.

If the defendant does not attend the trial, the magistrate will issue you a default judgment.

Winning a Small Claims Judgment in South Carolina

If you win the judgment in South 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 to the Circuit Court within 30 days after they receive the judgment by filing and serving a Notice of Appeal.

Alternatively, the judgment debtor can file a request for a new trial in the Magistrate Court within 5 days if they believe there is important information that was not presented at the first trial.

When you win a small claims case, you must file the judgment in person at the Circuit Court clerk’s office along with the original transcript or the original paperwork from the magistrate who heard your case.

If the debtor is delinquent on their payment or refuses to pay, you can recover the debt through an Execution of Judgment. Ask the Circuit Court clerk to sign the Execution of Judgment before taking it to the sheriff’s office or the civil service department for service.

You have 10 years to collect a judgment before it expires. A judgment collects interest at a rate based on the prime rate published annually in the Wall Street Journal, which is 11.5% for judgments issued between January 15, 2023 and January 14, 2024.