Consumer Counseling

See the step-by-step guide: 5 Steps to Get You Through Small Claims Court.
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For almost 40 years, 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 through Small Claims Court Action Centers across the state to help consumers seeking to use this resource.

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 centers are based on college campuses and are largely staffed by trained college student volunteers and interns. The centers are directed and supervised by attorneys and other professional staff. Through the years, hundreds of college students have become trained counselors and have, in turn, assisted tens of thousands of New Yorkers with a range of consumer complaints and issues. The counseling includes dispute resolution tips and information on how to navigate New York’s small claims system from assistance to 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, legal services offices for qualified individuals and on college campuses.

Small Claims Court Action Centers

Manhattan
(212) 772-4305
(212) 349-6460 ext. 1149

Upper Manhattan and The Bronx
(212) 650-5047
(718) 289-5409

Queens
(718) 997-3954
(718) 225-9121

Brooklyn
(718) 859-7178
(718) 260-5045

Staten Island
(718) 982-3109

Nassau
(516) 222-0086

Westchester and Rockland
(914) 251-6986

Mid-Hudson
(845) 257-3085

Southern Tier
(607) 777-4971

Central New York
(315) 476-8381
(607) 753-4815

Western New York
(716) 882-1549

All services provided free-of-charge. Counselors do not give legal advice or provide courtroom representation.

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 one of NYPIRG’s Small Claims Court Action Centers (see list above) 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.

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 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 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.

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 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 for additional information, assistance and referrals.

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