How to Get Paid: Filing Small Claims

Small Claims Court
There is something that needs to be said about Small Claims. Small Claims is easy. Models and freelancers generally have an income that is dependent not on one, but many various, possibly unreliable, sources. You need to know that if someone owes you money, there are safe and easy ways to go about getting it.  If you qualify, that is. If you do not qualify, then other measures and methods would need to be considered, potentially making the task much more difficult, which is a process I haven’t had to get into myself.

Before pursuing legal action against an indebted company or individual, consider the following.

3 Main Legal Qualifications For Small Claims Court

  1. You are owed no more than $5,000. (In NYC. Elsewhere, the amount may be different. Here is a list of small claims amounts for each of the 50 states)
  2. You are at least 18 years of age, or have a parent/guardian willing to file on your behalf
  3. You have thorough documentation that you are confident in and should undoubtedly hold up in court. (With small claims, you are your own lawyer. Keep all written agreements and invoices!)

4 Actions to take Before Pursuing Small Claims Court
Understand that Small Claims should be one of your last options. You can safely assume that legal action will make the opposing party upset and that all ties will be lost if not already severed.

  1. Wait the appropriate amount of time.
  • If a contract indicates that pay will be received within 6 months, wait those 6 months (all while freely inquiring, and insisting, about payment). Feel free to take immediate action after the appropriate time frame, but understand that legal action will sever the relationship. Waiting extra time may or may not be futile, but make sure the person knows you require payment and try to avoid severing the relationship. As models and freelancers, our careers thrive on relationships and networking.
  • Be sure that you do not expect to be paid unless legal action is taken. Once you are sure, still remain in professional contact with the party, keep all documentation of correspondences including email and texts.
  • Give proper warning. 
  • Mail an official certified letter indicating your intent, offering a last chance for payment. Be as specific as possible and include dates.
  • Gather documentation.
  • This includes texts, email, letters, vouchers, invoices, etc.


  • Determine exact amounts. Double check these amounts.


Filing A Claim

When you are ready, here is a list of locations of Small Claims Courts in NYC. The best option is for you to go file a claim in person, which is quick and easy. It ONLY COSTS $15 OR $20 CASH to file the claim. You can pick up informational packets at the location which help prepare you for Small Claims (there are also PDF files of these online). One of the final steps is choosing a court date, which is likely months in advance. If you have all your ducks in a row, you shouldn’t even have to physically go to court. If you have no reason to loose against the opposing party, the opposing party will know that and will likely wish to keep their record clean. Meaning, you will get your pay before you even have to attend the court date.

Do not loose the receipt/papers that the court gives you. They have important information. If you ever need to call for questions during the process, those papers will give you access to your claim number.

To my fellow models, freelancers and peers who are owed relatively large sums of money: Good luck! I hope this post helps you realize how easy it is to file a claim with Small Claims Court.

**The information contained herein is not legal advice, is based on opinion and personal experience, and is subject to change with time. You are encouraged to consult with your attorney/lawyer before relying on anything contained herein. Questions about NYC Small Claims procedures may be directed to New York City Small Claims Court.**

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