If your stuff is missing from your shelter unit or you were transferred to a new shelter and your old shelter cannot locate your stuff, ask shelter staff if they know what happened to your stuff. If the stuff cannot be located or is permanently damaged, you may file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court. If you win, this lawsuit may allow you to recover the money equal to the value of the items that were lost or damaged.
If your shelter lost or damaged your stuff, you can file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court for up to $10,000.
What do I do if my stuff is lost or damaged while in shelter?
What is Small Claims Court?
Small Claims Court is a section of New York Supreme Court where you can sue an individual or agency for up to $10,000. In Small Claims Court, lawsuits for small amounts of money are heard and decided quickly.
In Small Claims Court, you can only sue for money. You cannot bring a case for pain and suffering or to make DHS (or anyone) do something. For example, if the stuff that you lost in shelter was worth $100, you may sue DHS for $100. You may not sue DHS for pain and suffering you endured from losing your stuff.
Who can sue in Small Claims Court?
Any person who is 18 years or older may sue in Small Claims Court. If you are under 18 years old, your parent or guardian may sue on your behalf.
When can I start a case in Small Claims Court?
If you plan to sue DHS, you must first file a Notice of Claim within 90 days of when you notice the stuff is missing/damaged (you can notify DHS by filling out a property loss claim form here.
You can begin your case in Small Claims Court as soon as your stuff is missing/damaged. There is a statute of limitations of three years. This means that you may sue DHS or the shelter provider for up to three years after you file a Notice of Claim.
Where is Small Claims Court?
You must file your lawsuit in the proper county. You may file the case in the county where you currently live. If you are suing DHS, you can file in New York county since DHS is located there. Or, if you are suing a shelter provider, you can file in the county where that shelter is located. Below are the addresses for the Small Claims Court by county:
851 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10451
141 Livingston Street
Brooklyn NY 11201
111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
170 East 121st Street
New York, NY 10035
89-17 Sutphin Boulevard
Jamaica, NY 11435
927 Castleton Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10310
Do I need a lawyer to sue in Small Claims Court?
No. You do not need a lawyer to sue in Small Claims Court. Small Claims Court cases are meant to be easy to bring without a lawyer. However, you may have one, if you would like. If you are unable to pay for a lawyer, free legal advice is available through the Civil Court’s Volunteer Lawyers Project. You can meet with a Volunteer Lawyer in the New York City Civil Court’s Help Center located at 111 Centre Street, Room 104.
How do I start the Small Claims Case?
You will begin your Small Claims Court case by going to Small Claims Court in the right county and filling out a court form. You can get the court form from the Court Clerk in your county (located at the addresses above) or online. In order to complete the form, you will need the correct name and address of each person or agency you are suing. You will also have to explain the reason for the lawsuit and state the amount of money you will be requesting for your claim.
When you have completed the form, you can file it at the Small Claims Court Clerk’s Office in your county (located at above addresses). There is a court fee for filing: $15 for claims up to $1,000 and $20 for claims over $1,000. You will then be given a date to come to Small Claims Court for a trial. If you are unable to pay the filing fee you may ask for a fee waiver.
After you file your case, it’s possible DHS or the shelter will offer you a settlement. A settlement is an amount of money they are willing to pay so you don’t have to go to trial, and it is up to you to decide if the amount they offer is enough to give up your right to a trial.
Many people choose not to go to trial and agree to mediation with DHS. The Mediator will hear each party’s side of the story and make a decision about your claim that is binding and that cannot be appealed. Many people choose mediation because winning at trial is rare and often challenging.
How do I prove that my stuff was lost/damaged?
Before you start a case in Small Claims Court, you should organize all the evidence you have to support your claim. You should bring evidence, such as photos, receipts, incident reports or letters to any appointments with the court or mediator. You may also bring the damaged item(s). If you go to trial, you may bring witnesses who can testify about your claim. For example, you could bring someone who knew that you had two suitcases and is aware they are missing.
What will happen during my Small Claims Court trial?
You, as the claimant, will present your side of the story first. You will take an oath to tell the truth and then tell the court what happened. You will then show the court your evidence. The court and the defendant (person or agency you are suing) may ask you questions about the case. If you have witnesses, they will take an oath, testify and also may be asked questions by the court and the defendant. Next, the defendant will take an oath and tell their side of the story. You can ask the defendant and their witnesses questions.
What happens after my trial?
The Court will mail a written decision to you and the defendant within a few days. You will receive a Notice of Judgment, which will include: the Court’s decision about whether the defendant owes you money; if the decision is that the defendant does owe you money, how much money the defendant must pay you; the Sheriff’s office address and phone number; and how you can collect the money owed to you.
The information in this document has been prepared by The Legal Aid Society for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information without retaining professional legal counsel.