California Small Claims Court Demand Letter


small claims demand letter

small claims demand letter

Prior to beginning a California small claims court action, the plaintiff (person bringing the action) needs to send a demand letter to the defendant(s).  A demand letter is the court’s term for a letter asking the defendant to pay the money that the plaintiff is asking for.  It is actually a little more forceful than asking (hence the name “demand”) and more formal than email or a handwritten.

A written demand letter us best for this purpose for several reasons.  First, the demand letter will force you to set forth your case in writing.  This will force you to be concise and to the point regarding the dispute.  Second, by placing this in writing, you will be able to attach this to your initial filing with the court.  If you write the demand letter well, the court will be able to glance at your letter and quickly understand the nature of the dispute.  By crafting a good demand letter, you help shape how the court understands the dispute.  Finally, the demand letter lets the defendant know you mean business.  By placing your concerns in writing you are letting the defendant know you are serious about taking the matter to court.

Here are our tips on crafting a well written demand letter:

1.  Use a computer

As pretty as your handwriting may be, it is always easier on the eyes to read typed print.  The day of your small claims court hearing the court will be handling numerous matters.  Do not burden the judge or clerk by having to read your handwriting.  It is not putting your best foot forward.

2.  Begin by briefly reviewing the main facts of the dispute

Brevity is appreciated by an overworked judiciary.  In civil cases involving more money the Rules of Civil Procedure REQUIRE attorneys to keep their pleadings to the court below a certain page limit.  If you can sum up your case in 5-10 sentences, you are on your way to an excellent letter.

3.  Be Polite

Don’t fill those 5-10 sentences with a recitation of all the names that you and the defendant called each other leading up to you writing the letter.  You will look like nothing more than school kids on a playground at the time of your hearing.  Remember, this is your first impression in front of the judge who will be hearing your case.  Make it count.

4.  Be precise about asking what you want (and set a deadline)

The second to last sentence of your letter should sum up exactly what you want and set a firm deadline.  For example, “please return my entire security deposit to me within ten days of receipt of this letter.”   That way the defendant is on notice of what you are asking and is aware of the deadline to comply.

5.  End the letter by stating your intention to pursue the matter in Small Claims Court

Two reasons.  First, we’ve heard numerous defendants tell the judge at the time of the hearing, “I didn’t know he/she was serious or I would have paid.”  You’ll take this argument away from a defendant when you pull the letter out and tell the judge your last sentence to the defendant before filing was that you intended to pursue this matter in small claims court.

The second reason for this is that hopefully the defendant will take you seriously and perhaps open communication to settling the matter outside of court (which is something we always encourage here at CA Small Claims).  There will be an article on why we feel this way later.

6.  Last but not least, be sure to keep a copy of the demand letter

Self-explanatory.  This gets attached to your initial pleading with the court.

Finally, after drafting the letter, be sure to send it certified mail with a return receipt.  This will serve as proof if the case goes to trial that the defendant received your demand letter.


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