DC What is Small Claims Court

In the District of Columbia, the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch oversees cases where the amount in dispute is $5,000 or less. Court procedures are informal and simple enough for a person to file a claim or to answer a claim without a lawyer.

The person or business that files a claim to sue another is called the plaintiff. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant.

Court Assistance

The court can't give you legal advice but it may assist you with filing out the necessary forms.


Either party may appeal to the superior court for a new trial. Appeals must be filed within 10 days of your hearing.

Individuals or Businesses May Sue

An individual or business may file a small claim. You must be 18 years of age or older to file a claim in small claims court. Minors may sue through a legal guardian or an adult friend.


You can file your claim in small claims court if your claim doesn't exceed $5,000 and the person you are suing lives, works or does business in the District of Columbia, or if the incident or transaction took place in the District of Columbia. If the amount you are asking for is over $5.000, you must file your case in another court.

Demand for Jury

Either the plaintiff or the defendant may demand a trial by jury. The party requesting a jury trial must pay a fee and if the jury demand is made by the defendant, an answer setting out the facts upon which the defense is based must accompany the jury request. If a trial by jury is properly demanded, the case will be referred to the Civil Division and scheduled for trial on an expedited basis.

Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court

Many different kinds of cases go to small claims court. The most common are:

  • Car accidents
  • Property damage
  • Landlord/tenant disputes

Some examples of specific types of disputes that might be resolved in small claims court are when:

  • A landlord refuses to return your security deposit
  • Someone damages your car but refuses to pay for its repair
  • A store refuses to fix or replace a new product you purchased
  • Your tenant caused damage to rental property greater than the amount of the security deposit but refuses to pay
  • You were defrauded in the purchase of a car and want to cancel the purchase and get back the amount of your down payment
  • You lent money to a friend but your friend won't pay you back

Statute of Limitations

Under the law, there are limits on how long you have to bring any lawsuit. These limits are called "statute of limitations." The law won't allow you to sue if you wait too long. In many cases, you must bring your lawsuit within two years of when the problem arises.

Self Representation or Attorney

A person may file a claim in small claims court with or without an attorney. A plaintiff corporation must be represented by an attorney.


A counterclaim is a statement by the defendant alleging other facts to establish a claim by the defendant against the plaintiff.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If my claim is for just over the dollar limit, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
  • Will an attorney assist me with my small claims case if I want to represent myself at the trial?
  • Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?
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