Texas Small Claims Court Process

Texas Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: December 30, 2022 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $20,000
Deadline to File 4 years – Residential lease agreement
Filing Fee $54
Appeal Deadline 21 days

Small Claims Court Basics in Texas

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 Long Does the Small Claims Court Process Take in Texas?

A typical small claims case in Texas takes three to four 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 Texas?

In Texas, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is $20,000.

To attempt to recover an amount of more than $20,000, the suit must be filed in District Court or County Court, depending on your local court system.

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

You must file a small claims case for a residential lease agreement in Texas within 4 years.

Are Lawyers Needed or Allowed in Small Claims Court in Texas?

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 Texas?

A small claims case in Texas should be filed in the Justice Court for where the defendant lives or where the rental property is located. You can find your local Justice Court by using the state judicial directory.

Enter “Justice of the Peace” under Court, and then enter the county of the rental property or where the defendant lives to find the courts in the area. There may be multiple results, so contact the nearest court to determine if it is the correct filing location.

Your county may have an interactive map to determine your Justice Court precinct, like in Dallas and Travis County. Check your County Court website to determine what online resources are available.

How to File a Small Claims Case in Texas

Step 1: Register for an account through eFile Texas if you are filing without representation by an attorney.

Step 2:Log in and start a filing for a Small Claims Petition.

Step 3: Enter the details for your case using the step-by-step guide. Once you have answered all of the questions, you will be given filing options depending on your local court.

Some courts allow electronic filing, but some require filing in person. If your court requires in person filing, you can download the completed Small Claims Petition to print and file in the court.

Step 4: Pay the filing fees.

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

The fee for filing a small claims case in Texas is $54. 

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

You can still file a case if you cannot afford the fees by requesting a fee waiver.

Alternatively, you can utilize local dispute resolution programs, which offer free or low-cost mediation services that can be used instead of filing a small claims case.

Small Claims Court Process in Texas

After filing a small claims case in Texas, the Petition filed by the plaintiff and a Citation issued by the clerk are served on the defendant.

Step 1: Serve the defendant. A trial will not be scheduled until the defendant is served and given an opportunity to respond. Service can be completed by constable, sheriff, court clerk by registered or certified mail, or private process service.

By approval through the court, you may also serve the defendant by someone over 18 that is not invested in the case via hand delivery, registered mail, or certified mail with a return receipt.

Step 2: Defendant’s Answer or Counterclaim. In Texas, the defendant is required to respond to the Petition and Citation by filing an Answer and serving the plaintiff to avoid default judgment.

The Answer must be filed no later than 14 days after they were served the Petition and Citation. If the 14th day falls on a weekend, holiday, or any other day the court is closed, the Answer is due on the court’s next business day.

Instead of filing the Answer, the defendant may file a Petition as a counterclaim if they believe the plaintiff owes them money.

Step 3: Attend the trial. If the defendant responds with an Answer or Petition for a counterclaim, the case will be scheduled for a trial. Typically, cases are scheduled for a trial at least 45 days after the defendant’s filing unless otherwise decided by the judge.

Before the trial, either the defendant or the plaintiff may request a jury trial and/or pretrial conference.

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 Texas

If you win the judgment in Texas, 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 of the suit can appeal the decision to the appropriate County Court or District Court within 21 days after the judge signs the judgment by filing a Notice of Appeal.

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 garnishment or property lien through an Application for Writ of Garnishment or Application for Writ of Execution.

You have 10 years to collect or renew a judgment before it expires.