New Mandatory forms required for all types of Small Claims Cases, including Covid-19 Rental Debt
By David Wall, Chief Legal Officer
& Ali Ammar, Chief Investigations Officer
October 21, 2021
The California eviction moratorium expired on October 1, 2021. After more than a year of waiting, landlords in California may soon take their tenants to court over missed rent payments.
Current law shields tenants from eviction if they have paid at least 25% of their rent between September 1, 2021, and September 30, 2021. However, with the expiration of the eviction moratorium, the total rent between March 2020 and September 2021 is still due and may be collected in small claims or civil court starting November 1, 2021.
In response to an expected flood of litigation, the California legislature introduced new mandatory court forms specific to COVID-19 related debt. These include a new small claims form (SC-500) available at the link below and a new civil pleading form (PLD-C-500). The court also made minor revisions to the existing small claims form (SC-100), also available below. The latest version of the SC-100 is mandatory for all small claims cases, even if it’s not COVID-19 related debt.
The SC-500 closely parallels the existing form SC-100, with a few significant differences. Notably, the form defines COVID-19 rental debt and notes that cases seeking recovery of such debt are exempt from the usual jurisdictional limitations of small claims court (usually $5,000 for entities or $10,000 for individuals). A landlord filing suit for COVID-19 related debt may recover an amount well beyond the usual limits of small claims court.
Importantly, this allows landlords to pursue the entirety of missed rent payments in small claims court rather than civil court. Small claims cases are generally resolved quickly and inexpensively. Attorneys are not allowed in small claims court pre-judgment, and the rules of discovery are much narrower. Landlords can expect a resolution of their claim in a matter of months, rather than the extended timeframe of civil suits.
Concerning civil suits, the new pleading form (PLD-C-500) for COVID-19 rental debt contains new provisions. Specifically, the claim for recovery must include documentation of the plaintiff’s efforts to help the defendant obtain rental assistance. These verifications are critical to the success of a suit, as the court cannot enter a judgment without such proof.
Furthermore, the court adopted a new answer form (PLD-C-505) for defendants to answer civil suits, keeping in mind many parties are self-represented. Accordingly, the document also lays out potential defenses and objections, similar to the standard unlawful detainer answer form (UD-105).
Whether a landlord intends to file a case in small claims or regular civil court, it’s critical to serve a defendant properly. Serving at an old address, improper delivery, or erroneous proofs of service can result in a case’s dismissal. In some circumstances, you might receive a judgment, although it eventually gets voided due to errors with the initial delivery.
In many circumstances, evicted defendants may be challenging to locate. We have been through this process many times, finding many defendants no one else could. Some tenants move locally, and others leave the state entirely. Success in court often hinges on the successful location and service of a defendant.
Orange Detective Agency has been conducting investigations since the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Since that time, our office has assembled the most powerful resources available. We even have access to the same data law enforcement uses to locate criminals and witnesses. No agency has better or quicker information than Orange Detective Agency!
New Small Claims Forms for Mandatory Use beginning November 1, 2021
Form SC-500 Small Claims form for Covid-19 Rental Debt
Form SC-100 Small Claims form for all other purposes
Form SC-500A Attachment for Additional Plaintiffs or Defendants
Form SC-103 Attachment for Plaintiffs using a DBA (Fictitious Business Name)
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