Small Claims Court

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What to do if you are suing, or are being sued, for money or the return of personal property valued at $25,000 or less.


Suing in small claims court

In small claims court, you can sue for money or the return of personal property valued at $25,000 or less, not including interest and costs.

To sue a person or business in small claims court, your lawsuit, called a claim, must fall into one of the two following categories:

  1. Claims for money owed under an agreement, such as,
    • unpaid accounts for goods or services sold and delivered
    • unpaid loans
    • unpaid rent
    • NSF (non-sufficient funds) cheques
  1. Claims for damages, such as,
    • property damage
    • clothes damaged by a dry cleaner
    • personal injuries
    • breach of contract

If your want to sue for more than $25,000, you will have to take your case to the Superior Court of Justice (“civil court”). Read about suing and being sued in civil court.

How to sue in small claims court

Prepare a Plaintiff's Claim

The Plaintiff's Claim is the document you must complete to start a small claim against a person or business. This form will be filed with the court as well as delivered to each of the people or businesses you are suing.

  1. Make sure you have the facts. You will need to write a short, clear summary of the events that took place and the reasons you think you are entitled to money or property.

    You need to know the legal name and address of the person or business you are suing to prepare and serve your claim, and to enforce a judgment if you are successful.

    Businesses registered in the past five years can be found using ServiceOntario's online business name search, registration and renewal service:
    • Click the red “Start Online Service” button
    • Select: Enhanced Business Name Search
  1. Gather your evidence. Consider what witnesses and documents (evidence) you have to support your case. If you do not have supporting documents (e.g. you entered into a verbal agreement) or witnesses, your claim may still be successful. If it is just your word against the other person's, it may be more difficult to prove your case.

    Examples of evidence to support your claim are:
    • a contract
    • a record of any payments
    • returned cheques
    • photographs of property damage
    The person or business you are suing will have a chance to present their version of events when they respond to your claim.
  1. Know the time limitations. There may be a limit on how long you can wait before making a claim. In most cases, a claim can't be filed if more than two years has passed since the incident. If you're not sure what limitation period applies to your case, you should consult a lawyer. See the Limitations Act.
  1. Use the above information to complete your Plaintiff's Claim form. This is the document you will serve (deliver) to the defendant(s).

Choose a filing method

You can file your small claim online, in-person or by mail.

Online

You can prepare and file certain small claims documents with the court and pay court fees online.

Important: Not all claims can be filed online. Only claims for fixed amounts of money are eligible to be filed online at this time.

Examples of claims for fixed amounts of money include:

  • credit card debt
  • NSF (non-sufficient funds) cheques
  • overdue rent or other debt owing under a contract.

Getting started is easy:

  1. Go to ServiceOntario's online business portal for small claims court.
  2. Select start your claim.
  3. Create a ONe-key ID and profile.
  4. Follow the steps to create a Plaintiff's Claim, pay the fee and submit. This will initiate your claim with the court.

If you are submitting the claim online, the court-stamped Plaintiff’s Claim form will be returned to you by email. You must deliver a copy to each defendant.

For step-by-step instructions on how to file your claim online, read the user guide.

Claims not eligible for online filing may be filed in person or by mail.

In-person and mail (hard copy)

All small claims can be filed in person at a small claims court.

To get started, download and complete a Plaintiff’s Claim form.

Read the Guide to Making a Claim for detailed instructions about what information and documentation you will need to provide when you submit your claim.

File your claim with the court

Once you have completed a Plaintiff's Claim form, you must submit it to the appropriate small claims court.

Whether you file online, in-person or by mail, it is important that you select the right courthouse. Find out how to determine where you should file your claim.

If you are submitting your claim in person or by mail, you must provide the court with separate copies of the Plaintiff's Claim form – enough for each defendant and one copy for the court file.

Serve the defendant(s)

After you file your claim with the appropriate courthouse, deliver a copy of the Plaintiff's Claim and your supporting documents to each defendant. This is called serving the defendants. You have six months to do this after filing your claim with the court.

Once you have served all defendants with your claim, you must swear (or affirm) that you did so by completing an Affidavit of Service for each defendant. You will need to submit a copy of your claim and copies of the Affidavit of Service for each defendant at the small claims court where you originally filed your claim.

Read the Guide to Serving Documents to learn how to correctly serve documents and how to prepare an Affidavit of Service.

Where to file: choose the right courthouse

Whether you are submitting your claim online, in-person or by mail, your claim must be filed at a specific courthouse. The courthouse at which you file your claim must be located nearest to any one of the places where:  

  • the problem that led to your claim occurred (the location of the cause of action)
  • the person or business you are suing lives or carries on business

or

  • the court nearest to where the person you are suing lives or carries on business is located

Find a courthouse address.

Costs of filing a claim

Court fees

Fees must be paid at most steps in a small claims court proceeding. The number of steps in a proceeding varies from case to case.

Most common fees include:

Filing of a claim by an infrequent claimant

$75

Filing a notice of motion

$40

Issuing a summons to a witness

$19

Fixing of a date for trial by an infrequent claimant

$100

Read the Guide to Fee Schedules for information about fees.

Other expenses

Depending on your case, you may also have to pay other expenses, such as the travel costs of any witnesses, interpretation services, and delivery of documents. You will also need to pay for a lawyer or paralegal if you use one.

If you win the case, the judge may order the defendant to pay some of your costs. If you lose, you may have to pay some of the defendant's costs, as well as your own.

Even if you win, the person or business you sued may not pay you or return your goods. If this happens, you will need to enforce (attempt to collect) the judgment, which also involves fees. Learn how to enforce a judgment.

To keep costs low, you might try to reach an agreement out of court. This is called a settlement. Read the Guide to Getting Ready for Court and the Guide to Replying to a Claim for more information on the correct process for settling out of court.

Requesting a fee waiver

If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you may ask to have your fees waived. Most fees in small claims court proceedings can be waived, if you meet certain criteria, such as financial need. If you qualify for a fee waiver, you will be given a Fee Waiver Certificate, which you will have to present to court or enforcement office staff when the fee is payable.

Learn more about fee waivers.

Next steps for the plaintiff

If a defence is filed

If the defendant (the person or business you are suing) decides to dispute your claim, they will file a Defence form with the court and deliver a copy to you.

Next, you will receive a (paper) notice from the court with the time, date and location of a mandatory settlement conference. If you and the person or business you are suing do not come to an agreement during the settlement conference, you can request a trial.

Learn more about settlement conferences and how to prepare for one.

If the defendant completes a defence and admits to owing the full amount of the claim and proposes a payment schedule, you won't receive a notice of settlement conference.

If you don't agree with the payment schedule, you may need to schedule a hearing with a judge to discuss the payment. This is called a terms of payment hearing.

Next steps:

If no defence is filed

Note defendant in default

If you have filed a claim and the defendant has not filed a defence within 20 days after being served with the claim, you can ask the court clerk to find (or note) the defendant in default.

To do this, you must:

  • Complete and file a Request to Clerk form with the small claims court.
  • If you have not already done so, provide the court with proof that each defendant was properly served with the claim. You do this by filing an Affidavit of Service form.

Read the Guide to Serving Documents to learn how to correctly serve documents and how to prepare an affidavit of service.

If you filed your Plaintiff’s Claim online, you can return to the online application to take these steps.

Request default judgment

When a defendant has been noted in default you can ask the court to order them to pay money to you.

  • If an agreement or contract clearly indicated the amount you are owed, ask the court clerk to sign default judgment for that specific sum of money. You will need to file a Default Judgment form at the court office where you started your claim. Note: if you filed your claim online, you should submit this request through the online application. For more information about default judgments, read the Guide to Making a Claim.
  • If the amount in dispute was not spelled out in contract or agreement (e.g. if the defendant caused damage to your property), you can ask a judge to order judgment in one of two ways:
  1. Make a written request, called a motion in writing. To do this, fill out a Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit and file it with the court. You must state the reasons why you should win the motion and attach any supporting documents. The judge will read all the documents including your Plaintiff's Claim and then decide the motion. For more information about a motion in writing, read the Guide to Motions and Clerk's Orders.
  1. Ask for an assessment hearing before a judge. To do this, complete a Request to Clerk form and file it with the court. An assessment hearing is like a trial, except that the defendant is not in court. You must prove the amount that the defendant should pay. You can call witnesses and present evidence such as photos of damaged goods and receipts for repairs. The judge will then make a decision.

For more information about assessment hearings, read the Guide to Getting Ready for Court.

After default judgment - next steps

You will receive a notice from the court to let you know whether or not default judgment was granted.

Next steps:

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Being sued in small claims court

If you are being sued in small claims court, you will receive a court-stamped form from the person or business (or their representative). This document is called either a Plaintiff's Claim or a Defendant's Claim. It will state the amount of money the plaintiff is suing you for (up to $25,000) or the property they want returned to them and the reasons why. Receiving this form is called being served.

If you decide to reply to the lawsuit, you must file a defence at the court within 20 days after receiving the claim. If you miss this deadline, you can still file your defence as long as the plaintiff has not yet made a request to the court to have you “noted in default”.

Important: If you are “noted in default”, the case may continue without you and you won't have a chance to tell your side of the story. The court may order you to pay money or deliver goods to the plaintiff.

How to reply to a lawsuit

If you choose to defend the claim being made against you, you must inform both the plaintiff(s) and the small claims court that you wish to dispute the claim by:

  1. Completing a Defence. On this form you can write what parts of the plaintiff's claim you agree and disagree with. You will need to attach copies of any documents that support your case (e.g., contracts, bills or photographs).
  2. Serving (delivering) a copy to every party listed on the Plaintiff's Claim form that you received when you were served.
  3. Once you have served all parties with your defence, you must swear (or affirm) that you did so by completing an affidavit of service for each party.
  4. Submit a copy of your defence and copies of the affidavit of service for each party to the small claims court listed on the first page of the claim.

Read the Guide to Serving Documents to learn how to correctly serve documents and file an affidavit of service.

For more information about defending yourself against a claim in small claims court, read Guide to Replying to a Claim.

Costs of filing a defence

Fees must be paid at many steps in a small claims court proceeding. While the plaintiff typically must pay the majority of these fees at the beginning of a lawsuit, the defendant may be asked to reimburse the plaintiff for all costs related to the claim if the plaintiff wins the case.

Most common fees for defendants include:

Filing of a defence $40
Issuing a summons to a witness $19

Read the Guide to Fee Schedules for information about fees.

Other expenses

Depending on your case, you may also have to pay other expenses, such as the travel costs of any witnesses, interpretation services and delivery of documents. You will also need to pay for a lawyer or paralegal if you use one.

If you are successful in your defence, the court may order the plaintiff to reimburse you for yours costs. If you lose, you may have to pay some of the plaintiff's costs, as well as your own.

To keep costs low, you might try to reach an agreement out of court. This is called a settlement. Read the Guide to Replying to a Claim for more information on the correct process for settling out of court.

Requesting a fee waiver

If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you may ask to have your fees waived. Most fees in small claims court proceedings can be waived if you meet certain criteria, such as financial need.

If you qualify for a fee waiver, you will be given a Fee Waiver Certificate, which you will have to present to court staff when the fee is payable.

Note: only individuals can request a fee waiver; it is not available to a business or organization.

Learn more about fee waivers and download forms.

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Disputed claims – next steps in a small claims court case

Next steps in the small claims court process:

  • going to settlement conference
  • going to trial
  • appealing a decision

Going to settlement conference

A settlement conference is a meeting with the parties and a judge to try to find an answer to the case that all parties can agree to. At the settlement conference, every party tells their story and talks about the evidence they have to support it.

A settlement conference is held no later than 90 days after the defence is filed.

If all parties can agree on a solution, the case ends and there is no trial.

If all parties do not agree on a solution, the case must go to trial to be resolved, with the exception of cases for claims under $2,500.

Special rule for claims under $2,500

For claims under $2,500, parties who cannot reach an agreement at the settlement conference may ask a judge decide the case at the settlement conference. If the judge decides the case at the settlement conference, the case ends and there is no trial.

This step can only be taken with the consent of all parties. Download a consent form.

How to prepare for the settlement conference

  1. Fill out a List of Proposed Witnesses for the trial. Witnesses are the people who will help you prove your case by telling their story to the court.
  2. Gather any documents you plan to use to prove your case, such as contracts, pictures or expert reports.
  3. File the List of Proposed Witnesses and the documents with the court.
  4. Serve the List of Proposed Witnesses and documents on the other parties. This must be done at least 14 days before the settlement conference. Read the Guide to Serving Documents for specific rules about how to correctly serve documents.
  5. If you filed your court documents online, you must file a paper copy of each document with the court at least 14 days before the settlement conference. These copies are for the judge to review.

For more information on settlement conferences, read the Guide to Getting Ready for Court.

Going to trial

At the trial each party tells their side of the story and the judge makes a decision.

If you are the plaintiff (the person that started the case), you have to prove two things:

  • The defendant caused you a loss and you deserve money or goods to make things right.
  • How much money and/or goods you deserve.

If you are the defendant (the person being sued), you must explain why the loss was not your fault, or why you disagree with the amount of money that the plaintiff wants.

During the trial, both parties (the plaintiff and defendant) may:

  • call witnesses and ask them questions
  • ask the other party's witnesses to answer questions
  • show evidence (e.g., documents and photographs) to witnesses and the judge.

The judge usually makes a decision in court after both parties have presented their case. Sometimes the judge decides later and the parties are sent a copy of the written decision by mail.

If you are the plaintiff and you win the case, you may still have to take further steps to get the money or property from the defendant. For more information on how to enforce a judgment, read After Judgment – a Guide to Getting Results.

Appeals

If your claim is for $2,500 or more, you can appeal the judge's decision in divisional court.

To win the appeal you have to show that the judge made a mistake. The divisional court will not listen to any new evidence. It will only look at what was said and done at the small claims court trial.

For more information about appealing a decision in small claims court, read the Guide to Appeals in Divisional Court.

Collecting on/paying a judgment (enforcing a court order)

Collecting money if you win

If you are the plaintiff and you win the case you become the creditor. The court will order the defendant (debtor) to pay money to you or to give you goods. The debtor may pay right away or may ask you for more time to pay.

If the debtor does not make the payments ordered, there are steps you can take to get the money or goods. This is called enforcing the judgment.

You have two options for trying to get the money:

  • 1. Garnishment (e.g., bank accounts or wages)

    or

  • 2. Seizure and sale of personal property or land.

It is up to you to determine the best way to enforce the judgment. You can check with your local credit bureau, enforcement office, land registry office, or you could ask the small claims court to hold a court hearing about the debtor's finances. You are not required to have this hearing to take steps to get money from the debtor, but it can help you get information you need to get your money.

At the examination hearing the debtor must give information about their job, income, property, bank accounts, debts, expenses and reasons for not paying. After looking at this information, the judge may order the debtor to make payments on certain dates.

Learn more about how to enforce a judgment.

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Detailed how-to guides for filing or defending a claim in small claims court

These guides are also available at any court office.

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Frequently asked questions

Can I file in small claims court if my claim is for more than $25,000?

No. If the amount of your claim is more than $25,000, you may still choose to use small claims court because it is simpler and less expensive. However, you will have to give up the amount of money over $25,000 and you cannot attempt to recover the amount over $25,000 in superior court.

You also cannot divide a $30,000 claim into a $25,000 claim and a $5,000 claim to be dealt with in a second case.

Is it worth it to sue?

Getting judgment in your favour does not guarantee that you will get money from the defendant. You may have to enforce (attempt to collect) the judgment. In order for you to collect, the person/business must have one of the following:

  • money
  • assets that can be sold

or

  • a debt (e.g. bank account, employment income) that can be garnished.

Knowing the financial status of the defendant is fundamental to starting any legal action and then collecting on any judgment in your favour. There are situations which require that a person exercise discretion as to whether there is a realistic likelihood of recovering monies owed.

See the small claims court guide called After Judgment – Guide to Getting Results for more information on how to enforce a judgment.

Replying to a claim

What if I miss the deadline?

If you did not file the defence on time, the court may make a decision against you and may order you to pay money or give goods to the plaintiff. This decision is called a “default judgment”. For more information on what default judgment means or how to have it set aside (removed), see the Guide to Replying to a Claim.

What if the plaintiff owes me money or someone else is responsible for the loss?

You can also make a claim of your own against the plaintiff or someone else. This is called a Defendant's Claim. For example, the plaintiff may owe you money. Or you may believe someone else caused the plaintiff's loss and that person should pay instead of you.

For more information, see the Guide to Replying to a Claim.

E-filing

What kinds of claims can be filed online?

Claims for a fixed amount of money owing to you (e.g. a debt owing under a contract) can be filed through the new small claims court e-filing service.

Examples include:

  • credit card debt
  • NSF (non-sufficient funds) cheques
  • overdue rent or other debt owing under a contract.

Claims where the amount of money owed is in dispute can't be e-filed at this time.

What if I'm not eligible to e-file my small claim?

If you are not able to e-file your small claim, you can file your claim in person or by mail. Which courthouse you should file your claim with depends on your claim and the location of the person or business you are suing. 

Find a courthouse.

Why do I have to create a ONe-key account and profile to file online?

The ONe-key ID is a unique electronic credential that allows you to communicate securely using online government services. You will need to login using your ONe-key ID every time you use the small claims e-filing service.

I am a defendant. Can I use the online system to respond to a claim?

No. At this time, e-filing is only available to individuals who are initiating claims (plaintiffs). Learn more about how to respond to a claim in small claims court.

How will I know that my online claim has been processed?

If you don't receive an email from the court with your court-issued claim or Default Judgment within 5 business days, you should call the court office.

Find a courthouse.

Settlement conference

Who must attend the settlement conference?

All parties must attend the settlement conference. The people who attend must have permission to settle the case. For example, if one of the parties is a company, or if a party requires another person's approval before agreeing to a settlement, then that party must arrange to have ready telephone access to the other person throughout the conference.

If you do not attend, the judge can order you to attend another settlement conference. You could also be ordered to pay the other party's costs for the one that you missed. If you are a defendant and you miss two settlement conferences, the judge can make a final decision in the case without a trial.

Do witnesses attend the settlement conference?

Witnesses do not go to the settlement conference. The parties explain what the witnesses will say if the case goes to a trial.

Motions

What is a motion in small claims court?

A motion is a formal request to a judge to make an order about your case. Anyone who is a party to a case can make a motion.

Motions can be helpful but they can also make the case take longer and cost more money.

Examples of motions in small claims court:

  • A defendant could ask the court for more time to send in a Defence or a Defendant's Claim.
  • A party could ask the court to resolve a specific issue in the case, for example to extend time to pay costs ordered by the court.
  • A party could ask the court to change an order that has already been made. For example, the defendant could ask the judge for an order to overturn default judgment granted against him or her.
  • The defendant could ask the judge for an order stating that the money owed has been paid in full, or goods returned.

How do I bring a motion in small claims court?

To ask a judge to make an order (decision) about your case, you must make a motion.

Steps to making a motion:

  1. Fill out a Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit form.
  2. Explain what you want and why. Explain the facts supporting your motion.
  3. Obtain a hearing date for the motion from the court. Write this date on the Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit form.
  4. Serve the Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit on the other parties. This must be done at least seven days before the court date for the motion.
  5. Bring to the court the completed Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit and an Affidavit of Service at least three days before the court date for the motion.
  6. Pay the court filing fee. Read the Guide to Fee Schedules for information about fees.

Will the other parties respond to the motion?

The other parties have the chance to respond to the motion. They can fill out their own Affidavit forms stating facts that they want the judge to consider. Any response must be served on the other parties and filed with the court at least two days before the court date for the motion.

Who has to pay costs related to my motion?

If the judge grants your motion, you can ask the judge to make the other party pay some of your costs. These costs can include court filing fees, representative fees, and expenses for witnesses, photocopying, faxing and delivery of documents.

Settlement out of court

Can I settle the case outside the courtroom?

Before a trial starts, the parties should try to find a solution on their own. There are four ways to do this:

The defendant can admit to owing money or goods

At the start of the case, the defendant may admit to owing money or goods and offer to pay within a certain time. This offer is made on the Defence form. If the plaintiff accepts the offer, the case ends. The defendant must pay as promised.

If the plaintiff does not agree with the defendant's offer, the plaintiff can request a court date called a terms-of-payment hearing before a judge. This is done by filing a Request to Clerk form.

At the terms-of-payment hearing the defendant must show how much they can afford to pay and when. The judge may order the defendant to pay sooner than the defendant wanted. The judge could also order the defendant to pay a different amount than what was offered.

For more information on a terms-of-payment hearing, see Guide to Making a Claim and Guide to Replying to a Claim.

The parties can reach an agreement at a settlement conference

If there is no agreement between the parties, the court will hold a meeting no later than 90 days after the first Defence is filed with the court. This is called a settlement conference. All parties must attend unless the court orders otherwise. This meeting usually takes place in a private room with the judge and the parties sitting around a table.

The goal of this meeting is to find a solution both parties can accept. If it is not possible to find a solution for the whole case, the judge will try to get the parties to agree on some of the issues. If all issues are not settled at this meeting, then a trial will be planned.

For more information on written offers and settlement conferences, read the Guide to Getting Ready for Court.

The plaintiff or defendant can make a written offer to settle

At any time during the case, either party can make a written offer to settle the case. To make this offer, the party uses the Offer to Settle form.

A written offer must be taken seriously. If you do not accept the offer, then the judge will decide the case at trial. If the offer was better than, or the same as the amount ordered at trial, you may have to pay some of the other party's costs.

The plaintiff and defendant can talk about settling

The parties can also settle the case by talking about it outside of court. There does not have to be a written offer. If the case is settled in this way, the parties should make an agreement in writing and sign it.

What is an examination hearing in small claims court?

After judgment has been granted, if the defendant (debtor) has not paid the money owing, you can ask the court to hold a court hearing about the debtor's finances. You are not required to have this hearing to take steps to get money from the debtor, but it can help you get information you need to get your money. You do this by filing a Notice of Examination form and an Affidavit for Enforcement Request with the court, and serving them on the debtor.

If the debtor is an individual (not a corporation), you would serve these documents together with a blank Financial Information Form. The debtor must complete this form and give a copy to you and the judge. This form is not filed in the court file.

At the hearing the debtor must give information about their job, income, property, bank accounts, debts, expenses and reasons for not paying. After looking at this information, the judge may order the debtor to make payments on certain dates.

If the debtor does not make the payments ordered, you have two options for trying to get the money:

  • 1. Garnishment (e.g., bank accounts or wages)

    or

  • 2. Seizure and sale of personal property or land.

How do I garnish the defendant's (debtor's) money or other assets?

You can have the court order someone else who owes money to the debtor to give it to you instead of to the debtor. For example, the debtor may be receiving wages from an employer or may have money in the bank. You can ask the court to make the debtor's employer or bank pay this money to the court. The court will then pay you. This is called garnishment.

To make this happen:

  1. Fill out a Notice of Garnishment form and an Affidavit for Enforcement Request.
  2. File the Notice of Garnishment form and an Affidavit for Enforcement Request with the court.
  3. Serve the Notice of Garnishment and a blank Garnishee's Statement on the person or business that has the money.
  4. Serve the Notice of Garnishment on the debtor.

How do I have the defendant's property or land seized and sold?

If the debtor does not pay, you can have their things seized.

To do this:

  1. Fill out and bring to the court a Writ of Seizure and Sale of Personal Property form or Writ of Seizure and Sale of Land and Affidavit for Enforcement Request.
  2. The court will give you forms to take to the enforcement office.
  3. Give the enforcement office details about the items you want taken and where to find them.

The enforcement office will seize the goods or land and sell them at a public auction. The enforcement office will pay the amount received for the goods to the court. Part of this money will be used to pay the court back for costs like storing the goods and advertising the sale. You will receive the money that is left over, but not more than you are owed.

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