Virginia Small Claims Court Process

Virginia Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: January 11, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $5,000
Deadline to File 3 years – Oral lease agreement

5 years – Written lease agreement

Filing Fee Varies by court
Appeal Deadline 10 days

Small Claims Court Basics in Virginia

Small Claims Court is an informal court designed for minor cases limited to a maximum claim amount. The trial does not involve a jury. Instead, 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 Virginia?

A typical small claims case in Virginia 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 Virginia?

In Virginia, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is $5,000.

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

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

In Virginia, you have up to 5 years from the date of the dispute to file a small claims case if the tenancy was governed by a written lease agreement. If the lease was oral, the case must be filed within 3 years.

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

Small Claims Court is designed to be simple and not require an attorney. Virginia Small Claims Court does not permit the use of an attorney, except to request that the case be transferred to the General District Court.

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Virginia?

In Virginia, small claims are filed in General District Court in a location that is convenient for the parties, including where the:

  • Rental property is located
  • Plaintiff lives
  • Defendant lives, does business, or has an office where service can be accepted

To determine an appropriate General District Court, you can visit the court directory.

How to File a Small Claims Case in Virginia

Step 1: File a Warrant in Debt in person or by mail. Specific filing procedures vary by court and some courts require an appointment before filing, so check with your local court clerk to determine the correct filing procedure.

Step 2: Pay the filing fee.

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

The fees for filing a case in Small Claims Court in Virginia vary by court. You can use the court’s filing fee calculator to determine the filing fee for your case.

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 fee waiver.

Small Claims Court Process in Virginia

After filing a small claims case in Virginia, the clerk will allow you to select a date for the trial, and the Warrant in Debt is served on the defendant.

Step 1: Serve the defendant. Service on the defendant can be completed by sheriff or private process server. Service must be completed at least 5 days prior to the trial.

Step 2: Mail the Warrant in Debt. At least 10 days before the trial, the plaintiff must send a copy of the Warrant in Debt by first-class mail to the defendant. A Certificate of Mailing Posted Service must be completed and provided to the court by delivering it to the clerk’s office before the trial or to the judge at the trial.

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 a Request for Witness Subpoena at least ten days before the trial.

Step 4: 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 Virginia

If you win the judgment in Virginia, 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 within 10 days after the issuance of the judgment by filing a Notice of Appeal in the General District Court where the judgment was issued.

In the best case, the judgment debtor pays their debt promptly after the issuance of the judgment. If the judgment debtor has not paid within the 10-day appeal period, you can proceed with a court-enforced collection of the judgment.

If the debtor is delinquent on their payment or refuses to pay, you can recover the debt through several court procedures:

  • Abstract of Judgment for a lien against real estate
  • Writ of Fieri Facias to request the sale of the debtor’s personal property
  • Garnishment Summons for a bank or wage garnishment

You have 20 years to collect or renew a judgment before it expires. A judgment gains interest at a rate of 6% annually unless the lease agreement specifies a different rate.