Washington D.C. Small Claims Court Process

Washington D.C. Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: April 6, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $10,000
Deadline to File 3 Years
Filing Fees $5 to $45
Appeal Deadline 3 or 10 business days

Small Claims Court Basics in Washington D.C.

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 Washington D.C.?

A typical small claims case in Washington D.C. takes three to four weeks, 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 Washington D.C.?

In Washington D.C., 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 in the Civil Actions Branch.

How Long Do You Have to File a Small Claim in Washington D.C.?

You must file a small claims case in Washington D.C. regarding a residential lease agreement within 3 years.

Are Lawyers Needed or Allowed in Small Claims Court in Washington D.C.?

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 and partnerships appearing as plaintiffs must be represented by an attorney.

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Washington D.C.?

In Washington D.C., Small Claims Court is a division of Superior Court. Small claims are filed with the court clerk in Court Building B, 510 4th Street, NW, Room 120, Washington, D.C. 20001.

How to File a Small Claims Case in Washington D.C.

File a Statement of Claim and Information Sheet in person with the court clerk. Attach any documents you may have to support your case to the Statement of Claim like the lease agreement or apartment photos.

Bring the originals plus one copy for each defendant and payment for the filing fee as cash, certified check, credit card, or money order made payable to Clerk, DC Superior Court.

How Much Does it Cost to File a Case in Small Claims Court in Washington D.C.?

The fee for filing a case in Small Claims Court in Washington D.C. varies from $5 to $45 depending on the amount of your claim:

  • Claims under $500 – $5
  • Claims for $500 to $2,500 – $10
  • Claims over $2,500 – $45

Additional fees apply for the cost of service on each defendant:

  • Certified mail – $6.75
  • Certified mail with restricted delivery – $11.90
  • Registered mail – $15.50
  • Registered mail with restricted delivery – $20.65

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 to Waive Court Costs and Fees.

Small Claims Court Process in Washington D.C.

After filing a small claims case in Washington D.C., the court will issue a Notice with a trial date and the appropriate documents are served on the defendant.

Step 1: Serve the defendant. After you file your case, you must serve the defendant by mail or personal service (or both). You can have the court clerk handle service on the defendant by registered or certified mail by paying a fee at the time of filing.

The following documents must be served on the defendant:

  • Statement of Claim (with any attachments)
  • Verification
  • Notice

    Personal service can be completed by anyone over the age of 18 not related to the case that lives or has a regular place of business in Washington D.C. You must first submit an application to the court.

    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 before deciding 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 Washington D.C.

    If you win the judgment in Washington D.C., 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 3 or 10 business days to appeal depending on whether the case was heard by an Associate or Judge Magistrate.

    When the judge issues the judgment, they may determine an installment plan for payment. 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 apply for a Writ of Attachment in the small claims clerk’s office.

    A judgment gains annual interest at a rate based on the interest for underpayments of tax to the IRS (6% for judgments entered in 2023). You have 12 years to collect a judgment before it expires.