Washington Small Claims Court Process

Washington Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: December 23, 2022 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $10,000 if filed by individual

$5,000 if filed by business entity

Deadline to File 3 years – Security deposit claim, property damage, breach of oral lease agreement

6 years – Breach of written lease agreement

Filing Fee $35 or $50 depending on the court
Appeal Deadline 30 days

Small Claims Court Basics in Washington

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?

A typical small claims case in Washington 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 Washington?

In Washington, the maximum amount that can be recovered by individuals through Small Claims Court is $10,000. If the plaintiff is not a person, such as a corporation or partnership, the maximum amount that can be recovered is $5,000.

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

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

The time limit for filing a small claims case in Washington depends on the type of case filed:

  • Three years: Failure to properly return security deposit, damage to private property, violation of an oral lease agreement
  • Six years: Violation of a written lease agreement

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

Small Claims Court is designed to be simple and not require an attorney. Washington Small Claims Court does not permit the use of an attorney, paralegal, or any other representative, whether by an individual or company unless approved by the judge.

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Washington?

Small claims cases in Washington involving landlord-tenant disputes should be filed in the small claims division of the District Court where the property is located.

To determine the correct District Court, you can visit the court directory. Some counties have more than one District Court, but you can contact the court clerk to determine the correct court for your case.

How to File a Small Claims Case in Washington

Step 1: Obtain a Notice of Small Claim form from the District Court. Each District Court has its own form for the Notice of Small Claim, but they are generally in the same format as the form used in King County. Check with the appropriate District Court to obtain the correct form.

Step 2: File the Notice of Small Claim form. Each District Court will have its own rules for filing a small claims case so you should check with the court before filing. Some require filing in person, but some allow filing by mail.

After the case is filed, the clerk will typically issue a trial date unless that court requires a pre-trial mediation or conference.

Step 3: Pay the filing fee. 

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

In Washington, the filing fee for a small claims case is $35 or $50 depending on the particular District Court.

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 Declaration For Waiver of Civil Fees and Surcharges. You can obtain the form from the District Court clerk or complete an online questionnaire to generate and download a completed Motion. Click Start Interview to begin.

Small Claims Court Process in Washington

Step 1: Serve the defendant. After you have filed the Notice of Small Claim form, you will need to serve the defendant at least ten days prior to the trial.

Service can be completed by sheriff, process server, hand-delivery to the defendant or any person of suitable age and discretion at the defendant’s residence, or registered or certified mail with a return receipt. The defendant cannot personally serve the claim.

note

Some courts hold pre-trial conferences to allow the parties to present evidence to support or defend the claim and attempt to mediate the issue without a formal trial. Check with your District Court to see if this step is required. If a defendant fails to attend a scheduled pre-trial, a default judgment may be issued.

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

If you win the judgment in Washington, 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 any party disagrees with the outcome of the trial, they have 30 days to file an appeal by completing these steps.

  1. File a Notice of Appeal form
  2. Pay the fees (fees vary by court, check with your District Court)
  3. Post a bond equal to twice the judgment or twice the amount appealed
  4. Serve a copy of the notice to the other party
note

You can obtain the Notice of Appeal form from the District Court, but it will be in generally the same format as the form used in King County.

An appeal cannot be filed if the judgment is for less than $250 or by a party that claimed less than $1,000 in damages.

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, there are multiple court actions available to recover the debt. The most common methods of enforcing a judgment are garnishment of wages, bank garnishment, or placing a lien on personal property. To initiate these processes, you would need to file a case through the District Court to seek court-enforced repayment of the judgment.

If the judgment is for nonpayment of rent, the landlord can apply for a zero-interest loan to be repaid by the tenant through the state’s Tenancy Preservation Program.

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