Small Claims Court
For people with disputes under $6000 in Hamilton County, Ohio

What is Small Claims?

Small Claims Court is a way for people to recover money they think other people owe them.

Small Claims Court provides easy access for people with disputes involving relatively small amounts of money. In Hamilton County, Ohio, Small Claims Court will hear claims for disputes in which:

  • One person thinks the other owes them up to $6,000. (If you are trying to recover more than $6,000, you cannot file your case in Small Claims). 
  • The person is trying recover money only. In Small Claims, you cannot ask for punitive damages, emotional distress, or telling anyone to do or stop doing something. The court will only make a judgment around whether one party owes the other money.

Please note that if you win a Small Claims case, you don't automatically get the money. You may have to collect the judgment from the other party. Find a guide on collecting money judgments here.

Some typical Small Claims cases are:

  • A tenant sues their former landlord to recover their security deposit.
  • A landlord sues a tenant for back-rent and property damage.
  • A car-driver sues another for damages from a vehicle accident.
  • A homeowner sues a contractor for faulty repairs.
  • One person sues another for unpaid loans.
  • A person sues a business for a breach of contract.

There are other cases as well, as long as the case is only about recovering money, and this amount is less than $6000.

Basic information about Small Claims is available on the Small Claims automated phone line at 513-946-5700.

How much does it cost to bring a Small Claims case in court?

The cost of a Small Claims case includes filing fees and other court costs.

  • In Hamilton County, Ohio, to file a Small Claims case you must pay a $54 filing fee. If you have more than one defendant, you must pay $10 for each additional defendant.
  • If you win, the filing fees are included in your judgment. That means the other side will be responsible for paying you back for them.
  • You will also have costs related to coming to court. These include parking, transportation, taking time off work, child care, and other expenses. These are not recoverable (they will not be included in a judgment for you).

What are things to consider before filing a Small Claims case?

  1. Are you suing in the right place? You can sue in Hamilton County only if the defendant (the person you're suing) resides in or “conducted activity that gave rise to the claim for relief” in Hamilton County. If not, get legal help.
  2. Are you suing the right party? Make sure you know the true, legal name of the person or business you intend to sue. If you are trying to sue a business, check with the Ohio Secretary of State to find the legal name of the business. If you are trying to sue a landlord, look up the legal owner of the property with the Hamilton County Auditor.
  3.  Are you the right person to bring a lawsuit? If you are suing for property damage, you must prove you are the owner of the property in question. If it is around cars or vehicles, you should bring to court a copy of your car’s title. If you are suing on behalf of an LLC, you may have limited rights. An authorized representative of an LLC can present evidence in small claims court but cannot question witnesses, present an opening closing or do other acts of advocacy.
  4. Can you prove your claim? You will need to prove every part of your case. This includes presenting evidence and/or witnesses to support your points.
  5. Will you be countersued? If the defendant believes you owe them, they might countersue. They may try to collect money from you through a lawsuit.
  6. Will you be able to collect money through a judgment? The court cannot force anyone to pay. You may need to collect through the court, which can be costly and time consuming. 

How do you file a Small Claims case?

In Hamilton County, Ohio, you need the following to file a small claims lawsuit against another person:

  1. The exact name and address of who you are suing
  2. $54 filing fee ($10 additional for each additional defendant)
  3. The amount you are suing for
  4.  A short explanation of why the person you are suing owes you money

Fill out and file your complaint

A fillable Small Claims complaint is here. Getting your complaint right can help you avoid problems with your case later. 

The Help Center can answer your questions. File your small claims complaint in room 113 of the main courthouse 1000 Main St.

Service of the lawsuit

The other party must have legal notice (service) before you can go to court. Your small claims case is typically served on the person you are suing by certified mail. The certified mail must be either delivered or be returned to the court as unclaimed or refused (with ordinary mail sent out) before you can proceed. 

If there is a problem with the certified mail, your case may be delayed and you may need to take additional steps to serve the defendant. 

What if I am sued in Small Claims Court?

In Hamilton County, you do not need to file a written response to a small claims case. Instead, the defendant can appear at the court date listed on the summons to prove why they shouldn’t owe the plaintiff. They can also try to work out a settlement agreement with the plaintiff.

If you are sued and believe the plaintiff owes you money, you can countersue the person by filing a counterclaim. A fillable counterclaim is here and a sample counterclaim is here. 

How can I prepare for Small Claims Court?

Prepare your case

  1. Know what you need to prove in court. 
  2. Organize your evidence. What are you going to show the magistrate? What does it prove? 
  3. Plan a short opening. Explain why you should win the case in a few sentences. This will help you be ready to speak in court, and to keep your case focused.

Know how the court will judge the case

Generally, the plaintiff (or, the person filing the lawsuit) needs to prove three things: 

  1. Defendant's Duty: The defendant had a legal duty to the plaintiff to do or not do something     
  2. Defendant's Breach of Duty: The defendant breached that duty, causing a financial loss to the plaintiff
  3. Financial Loss amount: The exact amount of the financial loss  

At court, the plaintiff will have to prove these 3 things. The defendant will have to challenge these 3 things.


Types of evidence to bring

If you are the plaintiff or defendant, make sure to prepare materials that can help you support your side of the story:

  • Documents that support your case
  • Proof of Ownership for things related to your case. For cars, bring the Title document. For real estate, bring a print-off from the Auditor's website to prove you own the land or home. For other property, bring proof of ownership, or receipts.
  • Photographs, video, or audio recordings. Please note that Magistrates (the judges) will not look at your phone. You must print photos, put audio on a USB drive, and videos on a DVD disc.
  • Witnesses who can support your case
  • Your Own Testimony about what happened

For any physical or media evidence, prepare it so that the court will agree to look at it:

  • Make 3 copies: Be organized. Make 3 copies for the magistrate, the other party and for you.
  • Do not assume you can show evidence from your phone. Be sure to have any video or audio on a disc or USB drive. Print off any emails, texts, photos, or other documents.

What will happen at my Small Claims court date?

Know what to expect on your court date.

You can watch other small claims trials to prepare. They are held every weekday in Room 265 of Hamilton County Municipal Court at 9:30am or 10:30am.

Be on time

If you are late, your case may be dismissed. The security line can be long.  Arrive 1 hour early. 


You can choose to meet with a mediator to see if you can agree on a settlement without a trial. This can help you resolve the problem out of court, to benefit both sides.


At the trial, you can expect your case to follow this process:

  1. Both sides give an opening (a short summary of their case),
  2. Both sides can present their evidence, call witnesses, and question the other side’s witnesses
  3. Both sides can give a closing (another short summary). 
  4. The Magistrate makes a decision based on the facts and the law. This could happen on the day of the trial or shortly after.

How can I collect the money the other party owes me?

If you win, you are not paid automatically. Sometimes you must take other steps to collect the judgment.

A magistrate makes a decision on the day of your trial or a few days later. A judge finalizes the judgment 14 days later. You may still need to collect the money after this. 

See this guide on how to collect judgments. You may need to take extra steps if the other side does not pay you directly.

© 2019 Hamilton County Municipal Help Center