The person initiating the lawsuit is the plaintiff, and the person being sued is the defendant. Neither plaintiff nor defendant may bring an attorney into Small Claims Court with them; all parties in Small Claims Court represent themselves. However, you may consult an attorney to get legal advice to help prepare you for court. Generally, tenants have two to three years to file in Small Claims Court against their landlords. Lawsuits involving contract violations have a six-year statute of limitations. Speak to an attorney for more information. It’s a good idea to file the suit as soon as possible to avoid loss of information or documentation that would make the case stronger.
1. Purpose of Small Claims Court
Since landlord-tenant laws in Washington State are largely self-enforced, Small Claims Court is one of the best ways to assert your rights in order to recover money you believe the landlord owes you. You may also have to go into Small Claims Court to defend yourself against a lawsuit the landlord is bringing against you. Before taking any legal action always write a “demand letter” to your landlord outlining what moneys you believe are due to you, and give them an opportunity to respond. Demand letters can be used for asserting your rights with your landlord in a wide variety of laws. For one example of a demand letter, see Deposit Negotiation. Consider using Small Claims Court if your negotiations with your landlord do not produce the desired result.
You can sue for up to $5,000 in Small Claims Court, but you can only recover money for specific contractual or legal violations. If you have claims against your landlord for amounts totaling more than $5,000, you can file against them in a different court. See our tenant Legal Assistance Guide for more information. Filing in Small Claims Court generally costs around $35, but you can include that in the claim amount against your landlord. Tenants cannot recover wages lost as a result of the landlord’s actions, but they can include the cost of the filing fee.