Small Claims & Unlawful Detainers
Small Claims Court
Small Claims is a court where you can exercise your rights to resolve a dispute. Attorneys are not permitted to represent either plaintiffs or defendants (attorneys are allowed only in Small Claims appeals). Small Claims cases are for damages of $10,000 or less. Small Claims is affordable and fast, with simple and informal rules.
Small Claims Advisor
Address: 301 W. Line Street, Bishop, CA 93514
Phone: (760) 872-6240
Walk-in hours Monday through Thursday:
8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Remote services: By appointment every Friday through phone or Zoom.
Small Claims FAQs
The first step in filing a small claims action is to make a verbal or written request for payment. If a verbal demand is made, it should be followed up with a letter. To establish jurisdiction, the action must have occurred in Inyo County, or the defendant’s (the person you are filing against) principal place of business or residence must be in Inyo County. The maximum claim allowed in small claims court is $10,000. A plaintiff is limited to two small claims filings over $2,500 per year.
Filing claim for $1,500 or less$30
Filing claim for more than $1,500 but less than or equal to $5,000$50
Filing claim for more than $5,000 but less than or equal to $10,000 (claim by natural persons only)$75
Filing claim by person who has filed more than 12 small claims in California within the previous 12 months$100
For the most recent and up-to-date information relating to Small Claims fees, please see the current fee schedule for Inyo County Superior Court.
You must submit the original and at least 2 copies of your small claims filing. If filed by mail, you must provide a self-addressed stamped envelope for return of your documents. All documents must be assembled and stapled in the upper left hand corner.
If you want the Court to notify the defendant by certified mail, there is an additional charge of $15.00 per defendant.
Before the court can exercise jurisdiction over the person (have the power to order the defendant to do something), the defendant must be aware of the lawsuit and be given an opportunity to defend the claim. The papers must be served on the defendant by personal delivery or certified mail by the court. This is called due process, a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution. It means that the government will not take away rights, liberty or property without first notifying the person who is to lose those rights, and giving him or her the right to appear and object. The rules governing notice to a defendant require strict compliance.
The correct way to notify a defendant about a lawsuit is by service of process. This means that a copy of the complaint filed in the court must be given to the defendant by one of the following means:
- Personal service. You may ask anyone who is not a party in your case and who is at least 18 years old to serve (give) a copy of the court papers on the defendant. Personal services means the person personally gave a copy of the court papers to the defendant.
- Substituted service. Substituted service occurs when a person other than the defendant is served on the defendant’s behalf so long as the papers are served (i) at the defendant’s business with the person in charge; or (ii) at the defendant’s home with a competent person who is at least 18 years old. The person who receives the court papers must be told about their contents. Another copy of the same court papers must be mailed, first class, postage prepaid, to the defendant at the address where the paper was left. The service is not complete until 10 days after the copy is mailed.
- Certified mail. For small claims cases only, you may ask the Clerk of the Court to serve the defendant by certified mail. The clerk will charge a fee of $15.00 for this service. You should check back with the court prior to the hearing to see if the receipt for certified mail was returned to the court. Service by certified mail can only be accomplished by the Clerk of the Court.
The person who completes service as stated above must complete the Proof of Service form, Judicial Council Form SC-104, and have it filed with the Court.
PROOF OF SERVICE MUST BE FILED WITH THE COURT FIVE (5) DAYS PRIOR TO THE HEARING DATE. If there is no proof of service on file the matter may be continued or will be automatically dropped from the Court’s calendar. The Plaintiff must then request the matter be reset.
YOU CANNOT SERVE PAPERS ON THE DEFENDANT YOURSELF. YOU MUST USE A NON-PARTY. Professional process servers are available for hire, and the sheriff’s department may also serve legal papers for a fee.
The defendant must be served at least 15 days before the trial date if he or she lives in the county, and at least 20 days if the defendant lives outside the county. If service is not completed in time, the trial will be continued (postponed). If service is accomplished by substituted service or by certified mail, you must allow 10 ten additional days.
You may prepare your own case, or consult with an attorney about the applicable law and preparation for trial. You may also receive assistance from the small claims advisor (760) 872-4444.
If you prepare the case yourself, you may wish to research the legal theory by which you are seeking relief from the court. There are books available in the Inyo County Law Library on the ground floor of the Independence Courthouse, which explain different legal theories and the elements necessary to prove your case. Small claims court is informal, so you do not have to know the law. However it will improve your chances for success if you can distill the essential elements of the case and present them to the court in a clear and concise manner.
The opposing side is entitled to see all evidence before it is submitted to the court; therefore, if you plan to bring documents to show the court, you need to make extra copies for the other side, and for the judge. It will save time if you can each have a copy to refer to in court.
Be sure you are on time for the trial. Although the small claims trial is informal, you must be prepared with witnesses, books, receipts and other documents needed to prove your case. If your witnesses are not willing to come to court voluntarily, you can request that the court clerk issue a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order that requires the witness to appear. The witness has a right to charge a fee for appearing. If you do not have in your possession the records or papers necessary to prove your case, you may request the court clerk issue a subpoena duces tecum in advance of the trial date, which orders the documents you are requesting be delivered to court for trial.
Many cases are scheduled for the same time, so each case is given limited time. You should describe the events clearly and concisely. Before you present to the court any photographs, diagrams or documents, you must first show them to the opposing side. If possible, observe other small claims proceedings in the same department or courtroom where your case is scheduled, prior to the day you are to appear. You will get an idea how to proceed in an organized manner due to the limited time available for each case.
If you do not speak or understand English, you may bring a family member or friend to court with you to interpret. You should not bring a minor child or someone who is a witness to act as your interpreter. The court will also have a list of interpreters who may interpret for you; however, they may charge a fee. Free interpreters are only provided by the court for criminal proceedings. If there is no interpreter available, the court must postpone the hearing to allow time to obtain an interpreter. This postponement will only occur one time.
- You must present your case to the Judge. You may not bring your attorney, paralegal or other legal advisor to the hearing.
- You must not interrupt any party that is speaking. Each witness is given time to speak.
- Locate your counterpart and exchange all documents. If you only have one set, they are entitled to see it before court.
- No talking in the courtroom once the room is called to order.
- No children are allowed in the courtroom.
- The Court has a dress code and it is enforced. Dress as you would for a job interview in professional business attire.
- Review the Local Rules of Court for Small Claims prior to your hearings. Local Rules are available on the Court’s web site or are available at the clerk's office for a fee.
You can complete forms online for free at www.courts.ca.gov/forms.html.
Unlawful Detainer FAQs
An unlawful detainer is a lawsuit that a landlord files in court to evict a tenant. If the judge agrees with the landlord, the landlord can ask the sheriff to physically remove the tenant from the rental unit. If not, the tenant can stay in the property.
No. It is against the law for landlords to evict tenants on their own. Even if the tenant is months behind on the rent, the landlord cannot:
- Physically remove the tenant,
- Get rid of the tenant's personal property,
- Lock the tenant out,
- Cut off the utilities, like water or electricity,
- Remove outside windows or doors, or
- Change the locks.
Usually about 30 days, but it can take much longer if the parties do not complete and file the proper paperwork in a timely fashion. The tenant has 5 days to file a response after being served with the landlord's lawsuit before the landlord can file a request for a default judgment. If the tenant files a response, the landlord must then request a hearing date. The clerk will then schedule a trial within 20 days (or less) of the landlord's request. The trial usually takes one hour or less.
The landlord and tenant do not have to get a lawyer. But, there are strict court rules and court forms you have to fill out, file and serve. The rules and forms are complicated. And if you don't do things correctly, you may lose your case.
No. A tenant cannot file a counter-suit against the landlord in the unlawful detainer case. But, if the tenant has claims against the landlord for personal injury or damage to the tenant's personal property, the tenant can file a separate lawsuit.
For assistance with the unlawful detainer process you may contact the Inyo Legal Self-Help Center located at 314 W. Line Street, Suite D in Bishop or by calling (760) 872-4444