Small Claims Demand Letter

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Updated December 02, 2022

Or use an attorney at ContractsCounsel to write a demand letter.


A small claims demand letter is a formal written request for payment that should be sent before a case is brought to Small Claims court. Often, the demand letter will be all that it takes to resolve the dispute – but if not, it may serve as a critical piece of evidence in the eyes of the court.

Table of Contents

What is a Small Claims Court?

Small claims court is a part of the court system dedicated to handling financial disputes ranging from $100 to $25,000. The term “small claim” refers to the maximum amount allowed under law for the State where the case is being filed. For example, Delaware has a maximum claim limit of $2,500 while Tennessee is $25,000.

Fast-Tracking

Perhaps the largest benefit to filing a small claims action is that it’s usually fast-tracked with a hearing within thirty (30) days. This is especially common with cases related to housing such as evictions.

Maximum Limit ($)

The Small Claims Limits ($) are used to determine the maximum allowable claim for all 50-States. If a larger amount is being claimed, the petitioner will be required to file in a district, circuit, judicial, or superior court.

Self-Representation

It is common to see petitioners in small claims court representing themselves. This is not always recommended, although, due to the small amount being claimed may be the only option.

How to File

A small claims suit must be filed in the proper court jurisdiction and is recommended after the defendant has received a demand (‘pre-trial’) letter. If the filing qualifies under the Small Claims Limit for the State, the petitioner may be able to file their case.

Step 1 – Write a Demand Letter

macbook screen showing eforms small claims demand letter template

Download: Adobe PDF, MS Word (.docx), OpenDocument

The first step is to inform the defendant that they have a matter about to be filed against them. Also known as a “pre-trial letter”, this may be required by the local court as a last chance for the defendant to settle the claim.

Step 2 – File the Claim

person filling claim online

To file, submit the appropriate paperwork, usually a complaint and summons, to the small claims court and pay any filing fees. If you’re successful in your claim, the filing fee and other expenses incurred will be billed to the defendant.

Step 3 – Serve the Defendant

person giving envelope to defendant

Requirements for notification vary by jurisdiction. While some require personal service, where the defendant is handed papers in a face-to-face encounter, others allow the notification to be sent by certified mail. It’s not always easier to serve a defendant – evasion can be its own legal strategy – but making a good-faith effort will usually be enough to satisfy the court.

Step 4 – Appear in Court

person giving testimony in small claims court

Small claims courts are filled with non-lawyers going it alone. While it is possible to hire an attorney for a small claims matter, simple economics means that paying for counsel will often not be worth it.

Even without a lawyer at your side, take the time to prepare your case and present it professionally before the court. Decorum can make all the difference.

Step 5 – Final Judgment

judge using gavel to give final judgment

Unlike other legal matters, small claims cases are quickly adjudicated, with a judgment rendered at the conclusion of the hearing.

Remember that merely possessing a judgment in your favor does not guarantee that you’ll be able to easily collect. Though the law is on your side, actually getting paid can be its own legal battle.

Sample Demand Letter

Dear Steve Kroger,

This letter serves as a formal demand for payment of $511.40, the total cost to repair the damage that you caused to my boat on June 10, 2017.

On this date, I agreed to lend you my boat on the condition that you assumed responsibility for any damage that might result from your usage. When you returned the boat to me, there was a significant gash along the port side of the hull suggesting that the boat had either run aground or scraped against a rigid surface.

I have included a copy of the repair estimate with this letter.

Though I have previously attempted to contact you to resolve this, sending an email on May 15, 2017, and leaving a voicemail message on May 21, 2017, as of the date of this letter, I had not received any response.

If I do not receive a full payment of $511.40 by July 15, 2017, I will have no choice but to file a claim in Nebraska small claims court.

Sincerely,

Robert Morse

How to Write

A small claims demand letter, at a minimum, should include:

  • An account of the original incident
  • A summary of the damages arising from this incident
  • A timeline of past actions taken
  • A deadline for payment or response

Make sure to follow statutory requirements in setting a timeline for payment. While it might be tempting to give the defendant 15 days or fewer, courts often require a lengthier period.

Related Forms


Eviction Notices – To demand rent from a tenant who has not paid.

Download: Adobe PDF, MS Word (.docx), OpenDocument

 

 

 


Debt Collections Letter – For a debt collector seeking to be repaid for an outstanding balance owed by the debtor.

Download: Adobe PDF, MS Word (.docx), OpenDocument

 

 

 


Settlement Demand Letter – If the claimed amount is more than the small claims limit in the State, a settlement demand letter must be used.

Download: Adobe PDF, MS Word (.docx), OpenDocument