A Small Claims Court’s unique preference for self-representation could help you solve that festering civil dispute, avoid high legal fees and recover your money. To find out more, read on.

You are a landlord in Toronto and you have signed an 11-month lease for your apartment with your tenant. Your tenant produces evidence of gainful employment indicating his capacity to pay the $1,500 per month rent. All is well and the rent keeps coming in on the 1st of each month for the first 6 months. Then, things go haywire. Your tenant complains about losing his job and an inability to pay even as he erects logistical and legal barriers, complicating your efforts to get him off your property and recover your outstanding rent of $9,000 for 6 months plus late fees. If you’re in a situation like this and wary of high legal expenses through the normal court process, a Small Claims Court dealing with limited, civil disputes such as the one above will be very helpful.

The court allows plaintiffs and defendants to speak for themselves which allows you to make a personal case before the judge followed by a judgment. The key steps to follow are:

Step 1: Choose the right battleground

Determine whether the court has jurisdiction over you and the maximum amount it adjudicates. For example, Ontario adjudicates claims up to $25,000.

Step 2: File the Plaintiff’s Claim Form

Fill out the Claim Form describing the facts of the matter under dispute and pay the required fee which may vary based on whether you are a frequent or infrequent claimant. Serve the court-approved form to the defendant/defendants. If the defendant responds with a Defence Form, this will result in a Settlement Conference, which if unsuccessful goes to trial.

Step 3: Prepare your case

Carefully collect all necessary documents proving your claims such as the lease agreement and email correspondence.

Step 4- Argue your case

Now for the big day in court. Arrive at the appointed time. While not mandatory, stand when the judge arrives. First, begin by describing your losses and then circle back to the sequence of events and the defendant’s role in it. Do not interrupt the judge or the defendant. But be prepared to be interrupted by the judge during your testimony for a quick question or two.

Step 5- Collect or enforce your judgement

If that unruly tenant of yours refuses to pay, you may approach the court for enforcement which can range from an order for wage garnishment or even court bailiffs depending on the court location.