This site was created by the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia. It contains information intended to assist people with Nova Scotia Small Claims Court cases.

Is Small Claims Court Right for You?

When deciding if you should make a claim in the Small Claims Court, there are a few important things to think about:

What Small Claims Court Does and Does Not Deal With

The Small Claims Court will hear claims worth up to $25,000 (not including interest and costs). Claims may be for payment of money and/or the return of goods. Keep in mind that there are also a few things the Small Claims Court doesn’t deal with.

The Small Claims Court will not hear claims involving:


  • False imprisonment

  • Slander/libel

  • Malicious prosecution

  • Ownership of land

  • Disagreements over wills

  • Claims against the provincial government


For more information on whether Small Claims Court will hear your claim, you can contact the Legal Information Line at 1-800-665-9779.

Have you Considered Mediation?

Going to court may not be the most effective way to get the results you want.

If you think that it would be possible to settle your dispute by coming to an agreement with the other party then mediation may be a good alternative.

Mediation can be faster than a court process, and it is also much more private. You should also consider if you would like to maintain a healthy relationship with the other parties. Sometimes court can make things harder on everyone. Mediation will give everyone the chance to say what they are thinking and try to work something out between them in a calm setting.

You can find more information on mediation as well as how to get a mediator here.

Is it Worth Making a Claim?

The question “Is it worth making a claim” may sound strange, but it is a very serious and important one. It takes time, effort and money to make a successful claim. You have to think about what you might get out of the claim and decide whether that is worth what you are going to have to put in. Here are a few things to consider:

Have you thought about fees and costs? You have to pay a fee to make a claim at Small Claims Court. Information on court fees can be found here. Also, it's important to know that if you lose at the hearing then you will likely have to pay costs. That means you will be expected to pay for the other party's legal fees.

Can you back up your claim? Although Small Claims Court is less formal than other courts your case will still be decided based on evidence. If you do not have some sort of evidence such as bills, contracts, letters, emails, photos or eye witnesses then it will be difficult to prove your case.

Where is the other party? If you are unsure where the other person is then it is going to be very hard to properly serve them or to collect money from them or to recover your property. If you don't know where the other person is then someone will have to find the person before effective legal action can be taken against them.

Will you be able to collect? Winning your case is often just one step toward getting what you want. The adjudicator may make an order in your favour, but you still have to have that order enforced and enforcement can be difficult. For example, if the other person is unemployed or even self-employed, it can be hard to collect right away, if at all. You may end up in a position where you have spent money to ensure you succeed in your claim, but are unable to collect in a reasonable time.

It is up to you whether or not to start a claim. A lawyer can give you valuable advice regarding the strength or weakness of your claim, which can be very helpful in making your decision. If you are unable to find a lawyer to advise you then you can contact the Lawyer Referral Service (1-800-665-9779) and it may be possible to obtain a 30 minute consultation for a discounted fee of $20.00 +tax.

You can also find more information about legal help and the legal system here.

After deciding if Small Claims Court is right for you, then you will need to understand the process of starting a claim. You can find that information here.

How to Start a Claim

If you have decided that you are going to represent yourself in Small Claims Court, you need to understand the steps you will have to take to start your claim as well as how much this will cost.

Starting a Claim

If you are going to start a claim in the Small Claims Court, the first thing you are going to have to do is file a Notice of Claim and pay the appropriate fee. You can pick up a Notice of Claim at the Small Claims Court office at the Court House, or you can find the form online at The Courts of Nova Scotia website. Information on court fees can be found here.

On the Notice of Claim you will provide information such as your name as well as the other party’s name(s), place of residence, the amount of money you’re claiming or a description of the goods. It will also include the details about the nature of your dispute. Make sure that you have all the information ready to fill out this form.

Once you have completed the Notice of Claim, you must submit it to the Small Claims Court Clerk at the court administration office and pay the associated fee. Make sure you have three copies to submit, you will be receiving two of them back. At this time you will receive your hearing date and you will be informed how many days you have to serve the defendant, which is usually 10 days.

Serving the Defendant

Once you have filed the Notice of Claim and received two certified copies from Small Claims Court you will need to serve one of the copies on the defendant. The defendant must be served personally, which means delivering the Notice of Claim to the defendant by hand. This service can be done by you personally, or by someone acting on your behalf. Take note of when, where, and who is serving the defendant, because you will need this information at a later date.

You can find more information on hiring a Bailiff or Process Server by clicking here.

Proof of Service

After serving the other party with a copy of the Notice of Claim you will have to fill out an affidavit of service and file it with the Small Claims Court. An affidavit of service provides information about the date, time and location of where the defendant was served, as well as who performed the service.

You will have to take the affidavit of service to the Small Claims Court office where the clerk will swear the affidavit. The adjudicator must be satisfied that the defendant was served properly or else they may not hear your case.

You can find the affidavit of service form on The Court of Nova Scotia website.

Preparing for the Hearing

Once you have taken the necessary steps to start your claim, you now have to prepare yourself for the hearing.

To be prepared for your hearing you will want to be well organized. You should have some kind of system (like a binder or a file folder) for keeping track of the information and evidence that is important in your case. Our court system is still paper based so often being organized means keeping track of lots of paper!

Also, make sure you review these tips on preparing for a hearing. And for more in depth information check out this guide on representing yourself in court.

 

How Much Will This Cost

The amount of money it will cost will depend on your specific issue.  For example the fee for a Notice of Appeal from an order of the Director of Residential Tenancies is $33.00 if the claim is in an amount less than $2000.00, $99.70 if the claim is for an amount between $2000.00 and $4999.00 or for vacant possession, or  $199.35 if the claim is for more than $5000.00.

There is also an option for people with lower income. The court must waive the fee for filing a Notice of Appeal if the appellant meets the financial eligibility criteria set out in the regulations and completes and files proof of their income by current pay, income assistance or benefit stub, or a copy of their most recent income tax return or most recent notice of assessment. If the appellant has no income, they may obtain a letter signed by their medical doctor or other official confirming that the appellant does not have an income.

You can find more information as well as if you meet the requirements to have the fee waived here. As well, you can find a full list of filling fees here.

You can find more information about going to Small Claims Court here.

How to Defend a Claim

If you have been served a Notice of Claim, this means someone has brought a claim against you. If you do not respond to the Notice of Claim by filing a Defence within the correct amount of time then the adjudicator may decide against you without even having a hearing.

The Notice of Claim should give you the information about the claim that you need such as the reason for the claim and the hearing date. You will have a few options to consider if this happens to you, so make the decision carefully:

Settling out of Court

If you would like to avoid the court process then you can try to settle out of court. There are two main ways to do this:

Negotiate. In some cases it may be possible to negotiate a settlement that works for both parties. This option may be much more time and cost effective than going to court. Negotiations can be done between the parties or through a mediator.

If you agree to settle out of court make sure your agreement is in writing and signed by both parties. Also remind the claimant to cancel the hearing date and confirm with the court that the hearing has been cancelled.

Payment or Compliance. The other option is to simply comply with the request made by the claimant in their Notice of Claim. If you believe that the case will not go in your favour and that the claimants request is fair then you have the option of contacting the claimant and making arrangements to comply with their request.

Filing Your Defence

Although it’s safe to say most people don’t like going to court, sometimes there is no other choice. If settlement is not an option, you will need to file either a Defence or Counterclaim.

If you are going to try to defend your claim, you must file a Defence. This form will be attached to the bottom of the claim you received. After filling the defence out, you will file it with the clerk at the Small Claims Court and then serve the claimant. You can do this by personal service, registered mail, or any other way of service the court suggests.

It is also possible to file a Counterclaim. A counterclaim would be for a case where you believe the claimant actually wronged you in some way or where you believe the claimant is also responsible for the claim they are bringing forward. There is a fee of $66.00 to file a counterclaim and it must be done within 20 days of the claimant serving you. You must serve the counterclaim on the claimant by personal service, registered mail or another way of service if directed by the courts. You can use the Defence form as well for the counterclaim. The adjudicator will look at both claims together to make a decision.

A lawyer can provide helpful advice regarding your possible defence or counterclaim.

Quick Judgment

If you do not file a Defence or Counterclaim within 20 days of being served the Notice of Claim then the claimant can ask the court for a Quick Judgement. This is a legal process which allows a decision to be made without a court hearing.

Quick Judgements are not given automatically. The claimant will need to provide a sworn affidavit, the application for a Quick Judgment, Notice of Claim, and evidence which will be given to the adjudicator.

Presenting Your Case in Court

Have you received your Small Claims Court Hearing date? Have you properly prepared for your hearing?

The Small Claims Court Adjudicators have identified 7 things that people overlook when presenting a case in Small Claims Court. Review each tip carefully to ensure you are as prepared as possible when making your case.

TIP 1. Tell a story

The Adjudicator at your hearing needs to understand the story of your case so make sure to tell it right. At the hearing make sure to:

    • Introduce yourself (you are an important character in the story!).
    • Take your time.
    • Set the stage.
    • Good stories have a beginning, middle and end.
    • Start at the beginning of the story and tell it in a step-by-step way.
    • The story should end with your choice to bring the case to Small Claims Court.


If you are defending a claim that has been brought against you then the same guidelines apply, except the claimant gets to tell their side of the story first.

TIP 2. Use evidence

The Adjudicator will decide your case based on the evidence so you better have some ready! You cannot rely on just your story alone, you need evidence to verify that your story is true.

    • The two main forms of evidence are witnesses and documents.
    • Witnesses have first-hand knowledge of what happened, if they don’t then their evidence is called “hearsay” and given little or no weight.
    • The witnesses and documents that you will rely on need to be ready for the hearing!
    • You must bring to court all of the witnesses (including yourself) and documents that help support your story. You have the ability to subpoena witnesses for the hearing. Read this brochure for more info on using subpoena's. 
    • Sometimes, a hearing may be adjourned (rescheduled) to allow a witness to attend on another day, but there had better be a good reason for why they are not there.

TIP 3. Cross-examine

You will have the chance to cross-examine the other party and their witnesses. Are you ready?

    • Cross-examination means asking questions, not just arguing with the witness.
    • A good cross-examination brings out facts that the witness did not mention, or shows that they may not be telling the whole truth.
    • If you choose to cross-examine, be careful what you ask, as you are stuck with the answers.
    • Many self-represented parties choose not to cross-examine, knowing that cross-examination is a legal skill that not everyone possesses.
    • Generally, an Adjudicator will understand if you decide not to cross-examine. 

TIP 4. Prove documents

Documents that you want to use as evidence have to be authenticated at the hearing. That means someone at the hearing has to confirm that the document is genuine.

For example, if there is an email between Anna and Bob then either Anna or Bob can authenticate the email  at the hearing by saying “I sent it” or “I received it.” If it is a contract, you may be able to testify that you signed it, or were given it. If it is a photograph, someone may need to testify that they took the photograph.

    • A document that is not authenticated may not be accepted, or may be given little “weight.”
    • Make sure to bring enough copies of your documents (usually three) so that the court and the other party can have one.
    • The same is true of photographs – bring copies for everyone.
    • If you plan to show a video, bring copies on a DVD or thumb drive, so it can be shown on the equipment in the court and also taken away by the Adjudicator.


Do not offer to show pictures or videos on your phone or laptop.  Print them out and bring copies, or in the case of videos, bring it on a CD or thumb drive.

TIP 5. Expert opinions

You might want an expert to testify at your hearing.

    • Sometimes, to support your case you need an expert to testify.
    • For example, you may have a mechanic who can testify that a repair done to your car by someone else was improper.
    • If you are going to rely on an expert then have that expert put their opinion in writing, and also come to court prepared to testify.
    • You may have to pay them for their time. That is only fair.


If you get a report from an expert before your hearing then there are some steps you should take:

    • If you get an expert report then you should send it to the other party with plenty of time before the hearing so they are not taken by surprise.
    • If expert reports are not shared before the hearing, there is a risk that the trial will have to be adjourned (rescheduled) so the other party can prepare a response.

TIP 6. Beware the internet

Adjudicators will not accept articles or opinions that you got off the internet.

    • The internet may be a good starting point for educating yourself, but printouts from the internet will rarely be accepted as evidence.
    • For example, you may find a website where someone in the US gives an opinion that a vehicle has defective brakes.  The court will not accept that as evidence. You will need an expert who can be there in person to defend his or her opinion.

TIP 7. Ask for help!

The more complicated your case is, or the more money is involved, the more important it is to get a bit of legal help.

    • Getting legal help can build your confidence that you are on the right track.
    • Ask a lawyer or paralegal in your community – a free or low cost consultation may be available.
    • Consider asking for help from the Legal Information Society which has a Lawyer Referral Service where a lawyer may provide a half hour consultation for $20 fee. For more information on this service, you can visit the website here.
    • The Adjudicator hearing your case may also be willing to help, to a degree, where you are uncertain about proper procedure.


 

 

Download all of our tips as a power-point here or as an audio file here. And don’t forget to take our survey.

Appealing an Order of the Director of Residential Tenancies

If you have received an order from the Director of Residential Tenancies that you do not agree with, you have the option to appeal this decision.

How to Appeal a Decision

You have ten days from the date of the order of the Director of Residential Tenancies to file an appeal with the Small Claims Court.

You need to complete a Notice of Appeal form, which you can get from the Small Claims Court in your area. You have  to explain why you are appealing the decision and provide a copy of the Director’s order. You will file this at the Small Claims Court.

A copy of the Notice of Appeal form will need to be served to the respondent and the Director of Residential Tenancies.

You can find a list of regulations and forms here, as well as the Residential Tenancies Act here.

Service of Documents

The Notice of Appeal Form will need to be personally served upon the other party as well as the Director of Residential Tenancies. Serving a staff person at the Access Centre where the original Application to Director was heard is the most efficient way to meet the requirement of service on the Director.

Make sure you get the person’s name, as you need it when you file your paperwork at Small Claims Court.

At the Hearing

Keep in mind that an appeal to Small Claims Court will result in a re-hearing of your case. This is like a brand new hearing. You will have the chance to present your evidence and tell your side of the story again. All evidence that you have provided at the Director's meeting will need to be provided again. You may also present new evidence that was not presented at the Director’s meeting.

Make sure you review all the information you have as well as all evidence, paper work, pictures and documents.

Check out this page for tips on preparing for your Small Claims Court hearing.

How Much Will this Cost?

The amount of money it will cost will depend on your specific issue.  For example the fee for a Notice of Appeal from an order of the Director of Residential Tenancies is $33.00 if the claim is in an amount less than $2000.00, $99.70 if the claim is for an amount between $2000.00 and $4999.00 or for vacant possession, or  $199.35 if the claim is for more than $5000.00.

There is also an option for people with lower income. The court must waive the fee for filing a Notice of Appeal if the appellant meets the financial eligibility criteria set out in the regulations and completes and files proof of their income by current pay, income assistance or benefit stub, or a copy of their most recent income tax return or most recent notice of assessment. If the appellant has no income, they may obtain a letter signed by their medical doctor or other official confirming that the appellant does not have an income.

You can find more information as well as if you meet the requirements to have the fee waived here. As well, you can find a full list of filling fees here.

What Happens After the Hearing?

Within 14 days of the hearing the Adjudicator who heard your case will make their decision. The Adjudicator may choose to leave the order the same, make a few changes to it, or completely dismiss it. The Adjudicator also has the option of making any order that the Director could have made.

Win or lose, no lawyer's fees will be awarded.



 

 

The Small Claims Court App was developed by Kislay Trivedi, a graduate from Saint Mary’s University in Computer Science.
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