Consumer Counseling

gavel image

Since 1977, NYPIRG has offered help to New Yorkers with consumer problems and complaints, such as the purchase of defective goods, shoddy services, unreturned security deposits, property damage or falling victim to deceptive business practices. For many, New York’s Small Claims Courts – the original “People’s Court” – is the place for them to seek justice. NYPIRG’s sister organization offers assistance with consumer problems and in using the courts through Small Claims Court Action Centers located across the state.

Please call our toll-free number (800-566-5020), and one of our Small Claims Court Action Center counselors will contact you shortly.

While the Action Centers don’t provide legal advice or courtroom representation, they can help you resolve consumer problems and boost your chances of success in the small claims courts and with collecting a judgment. The service is free of charge and is open to everyone. The counseling includes dispute resolution tips and information on how to navigate New York’s small claims system at each step, from assistance before a case is filed, to court preparation, to judgment collection.

One note – it’s often a good idea to speak with an attorney whenever you’re considering going to court. This is particularly true in cases involving a physical injury. Free or low cost consultations may be available to you, including through community law offices, bar associations, union legal plans, nonprofit legal services provider offices for qualified individuals and for students and staff on college campuses.

COVID-19: Alert on New York State Courts

During the COVID-19 pandemic, New York’s state and local civil courts – including the small claims courts – responded by limiting access to the courts and taking steps to protect visitors and court personnel in various ways, such as reducing courtroom occupancy and social distancing. While the courts are moving to fully open up again, court operations typically reflect the number of local COVID-19 cases and specific courthouse conditions, so check with your local city, town or village small claims court for operation hours, building access and other rules on using the local courts.

For updates from the New York State Unified Court System, visit: http://www.nycourts.gov/index.shtml

To find contact information for your local court, visit: http://www.nycourts.gov/courts

Note that NYPIRG’s Small Claims Court Action Centers continue to provide assistance on small claims court and consumer matters. Please contact (800) 566-5020 and leave a message if you need assistance.

5 Steps to Get You Through Small Claims Court

This section provides step-by-step basic information for New Yorkers with consumer disputes, from help before you file a small claims court action, through collecting your judgment – information you will need in order to effectively use the Small Claims Court.

The Small Claims Courts in New York operate under uniform laws. However, the day-to-day rules and procedures (e.g., clerks' office hours and times for hearings) may differ somewhat among the local courts across the state.

While this information provides a basic overview and some tips, you should consider speaking with an attorney about your case to get legal advice. You can also contact NYPIRG’s Small Claims Court Action Center (800-566-5020) to get information, assistance and counseling from non-lawyer counselors.

Tips for Defendants

1. Settlement: There are many opportunities for the defendant and the claimant to come to some sort of a settlement agreement. The defendant may not realize there is a dispute until they actually receive the Notice of Claim in the mail. However, they will probably be contacted by the other party regarding the dispute before they are sued. Defendants should correspond in writing to the claimant and try to come to a settlement. If they can reach a settlement, they should draw up a written settlement agreement and have it signed and notarized by both parties. If they pay out money, repair items or repeat services, they should document that in writing and have it signed and notarized as well. If they reach a settlement agreement after they are sued, then they should file the agreement with the small claims clerk. Payments should be made by check or some other form that creates a paper trail; if payment is by cash, be sure both parties get a dated receipt that describes the reason for the payment.

2. Counterclaim: If the defendant believes the claimant owes them money – whether or not related to the small claims case – the defendant can bring a counterclaim. Up to five days after the defendant receives the Notice of Claim in the mail, the defendant can file a counterclaim with the small claims clerk by filling out a Notice of Counterclaim and paying a small fee. After five days have passed, the defendant can file a counterclaim on the court day or night for a small fee. If the counterclaim is filed on the court day or night, the claimant (or counter-defendant) will most likely ask for and be granted an adjournment so they can prepare a defense to the counterclaim.

3. Preparing and Presenting a Good Defense: The burden to make out a small claims case is on the claimant. If the claimant fails to meet this burden, the defendant could say nothing and still be found not liable for any damages. However, it is prudent for defendants to anticipate the claimant's case and to gather evidence and witness testimony to counter the claimant's argument. Defendants should also prepare a narrative and practice the presentation of their defense. If the defendant brings a counterclaim against the claimant (or counter-defendant), the defendant or counter-claimant has the burden of proving the counterclaim.

4. Vacating Default Judgments: Default judgments are typically entered against a defendant who has either arrived too late (after second roll call) or has failed to appear for a hearing at which he/she is being sued. If a default judgment has been entered against the defendant, the defendant can request that the court vacate the default judgment and set a new date to re-hear the claim. To vacate the default judgment, the defendant generally needs to file an Order to Show Cause form with the small claims clerk and demonstrate in an attached Affidavit that there is a "meritorious defense" and an "excusable default." Courts often restore default judgment cases to the calendar if the motion is made within a year of the default. Court clerks can provide assistance in this process.

5. Satisfying Judgments: Defendants (and Judgment Debtors) who are willing to pay judgments that have been awarded against them are often concerned that they will have no "proof" that they satisfied their small claims judgment. Clients in this situation should obtain an Affidavit Upon Payment of Judgment form, fill it out, have it notarized, keep a copy for their records and file the form with the Small Claims Court.

An individual may contact NYPIRG’s Small Claims Court Action Center (800-566-5020) for additional information and assistance.

Other Important Information About Small Claims Court Cases

If you need to ask the court for some other type of formal help with their case, these requests may be made by filing an Order to Show Cause as a generic way of petitioning the court for an appearance in order to ask that the court grant a specific request, including disclosure of the judgment debtor’s assets and with requests to amend the judgment. Speak with the court clerk about how to proceed with these requests.

There may be resources available to you if you want to file an appeal, seek legal advice, prefer to have a lawyer handle your case, or have a case that is outside the realm of the Small Claims Court. You can seek assistance from local service providers including local legal referral services, the local Bar Association, the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, community legal services organizations, the Legal Aid office, Attorney General's Office, Better Business Bureau, Department of Consumer Affairs, and Landlord/Tenant organizations. An individual may contact NYPIRG’s Small Claims Court Action Center (800-566-5020) for additional information, assistance and referrals.

Donald K. Ross, Leading Public Interest Lawyer, Dies at 78  (The New York Times, May 19, 2022)
Longtime activist, NYPIRG founder Donald K. Ross dead at 78  (Albany Times-Union, May 18, 2022)
Blair Horner discusses how the new maps dramatically re-shape several Congressional races in New York  (Media Sanctuary, May 17, 2022)
Despair about events, or act to change them?  (WAMC, May 16, 2022)
Long Island Groups Call on Governor Hochul to Modernize NY’s Bottle Bill Call for a “Bigger Better Bottle Bill”  (LongIsland.com, May 13, 2022)
State lawmakers debate all-electric building construction  (Spectrum News, May 13, 2022)
New York ranks among worst nationally in hospital safety grades during COVID: Report  (LoHud, May 12, 2022)
Grieving families calling on New York state to recognize wrongful death lawsuits based on emotional loss  (CBS News, May 11, 2022)
For nonprofits, a voice in lobbying is often out of reach due to rules  (Albany Times-Union, May 9, 2022)
How New York is considering ways of easing medical debt  (Spectrum News, May 9, 2022)
Environmental advocacy groups oppose climate bill  (Albany Times-Union, May 9, 2022)
Policy traffic jam in Albany  (WAMC, May 9, 2022)
Crypto Industry Responds After Lawmakers Attack on Environmental Concerns  (New York Sun, May 4, 2022)
Local Law 97: A Breakdown of NYC’s Green New Deal  (BK Reader, May 4, 2022)
Clean Water Advocates urge Hochul to lower proposed levels for PFAS notification/cleanup  (Troy Record, May 3, 2022)
Families of wrongful death victims want right to sue over lost companionship  (Albany Times-Union, May 3, 2022)
'It's About Justice': Hoylman Says Wrongful Death Law Revamp Is Needed to Value Lives  (Law.com, May 3, 2022)
Albany suffers through another political earthquake  (WAMC, May 2, 2022)
Gillibrand Commits to Meet w/Residents on Climate Killing Cryptomining @ Greenidge  (Genesee Sun, April 29, 2022)
Albany loves loopholes: Legislators undermine process of enforcing ethical standards  (NNY 360, April 29, 2022)
News Archive
*UPDATE: NYPIRG will be working with Donald Ross’ family and friends to organize an event celebrating his life. We are planning on the event occurring sometime in the early fall.
NYPIRG, Statewide Groups and Legislators Hold 40th Birthday Party for the “Bottle Bill” Advocates Call on State Legislature to Pass Bill This Session to Expand and Modernize NY’s Most Successful Recycling and Extended Producer Responsibility Law
Donald Ross, 1943-2022 – We are saddened by the loss of Donald Ross, our first executive director and a lifelong, visionary champion for the public interest.
NYPIRG joined with lawmakers and families who have lost loved ones due to others' negligence to urge New York to modernize its Wrongful Death Law. NYPIRG also released results of its survey of state Wrongful Death Laws showing New York at the bottom in terms of recognizing family losses
NYPIRG joined with lawmakers and consumer, health, and food safety organizations to urge passage of legislation to blunt the growing threat of antibiotics resistant infections (aka "superbugs").
217 Groups Call on Legislature to Pass Climate Justice CLCPA Building Bills for Earth Week
NYPIRG calls higher education budget a step forward, but much more needs to be done.
NEW! Fossil-Free Future Campaign: Help Make New York State a Leader in the Fight to Combat Climate Change
NYPIRG Reacts to the Process of State Budget-Making as Well as Democracy Reforms Contained Within the Budget Agreement
Energy & Environment Wins & Losses in 2022 State Budget
Civic Groups Decry Failure of Governor and Legislature to Create Credible Ethics Oversight Body
Reported Budget Agreement Would Lock in JCOPE’s Fatal Flaw: Lack of Independence From the Electeds It Is Supposed to Regulate
Civic Organizations Today Urged Opposition to a Reported Ethics Reform Plan
The Groups Cited a Report From the Albany Times Union Which Described a Plan That Would Establish a New Ethics Watchdog Still Controlled by Political Insiders.
NYPIRG and Other Reform Organizations Today Responded to Reports of Renewed Negotiations Over State Ethics in This Year’s State Budget
The Groups Called on the Governor and State Legislature to Create an Independent Commission to Replace the Failed
Over 160 Environmental and Community Organizations, Recycling Businesses Oppose Extended Producer Responsibility Legislation in the State Budget – Call for Stronger Packaging Legislation and Expansion of Bottle Bill
NYPIRG Announces New Staff
Reactions to Governor Hochul’s FY 2022-2023 Executive Budget
Seventy-five Bottle Redemption Businesses and Distributors Call on Governor Hochul to Expand and Modernize NY's Bottle Deposit Law
Reactions to Governor Hochul's State of the State
Students Petition Gov Hochul for Student Friendly Executive Budget
News Release: Students Petition Gov Hochul for Student Friendly Executive Budget
Reports & Features Archive