If you read the pages that we write here, you know that many say something along the lines of, "if your problem is this, and the law says this, then write a letter and worse case scenario, sue the other party in Small Claims Court."
We do this because tenant-landlord law is mostly set up for folks to go to court and get payment for losses if they can't find another way to resolve the problem. This allows a judge to make a decision about whether or not laws were followed, and who, in the end, should be paid.
Often, our lowest-income clients are reluctant to go to Small Claims Court. However, they usually don't know that Small Claims Court allows low-income folks to file without paying any fees for filing or service. So, filing can be free, and the only thing you have to lose is the money you don't sue for.
Across Wisconsin, if someone is filing a claim in their county Small Claims Court, they can fill out a form to say that they are low-income and do not want to pay the filing fee. That form is here: Form CV-410: Petition for Waiver of Fees and Costs
If you receive...
- Supplemental security income (SSI)
- Relief funded under §59.53(21), Wis. Stats.
- Medical assistance (such as BadgerCare)
- Food stamps/FoodShare
- Relief funded under public assistance (such as the EA grant through the county)
- Benefits for veterans under §45.40 (1m) or 38 USC 501-562
- Legal representation from a civil legal services program or a volunteer attorney program based on indigency (in Wisconsin, this is usually Legal Action or Judicare)
- Other means-tested public assistance (such as subsidized/public housing, Section 8 voucher recipient, W2, etc)
... then, when you sue someone for money in Small Claims Court, you can request not to pay the filing fee ($94.50) and the service costs (the costs to give the other person the official copy of your suit).
For the record, we are not attorneys. We're not ordering you to fill this form out this way, and we're not even saying you should. It's an option, and if it doesn't feel right, then talk to someone you trust. Here's a list of attorneys, in case you're in need of one.
Filling out the form:
- Write your name and the other person's name up top, along with the county you'll be filing in.
- Check the box that says you are unable to pay "filing and service fees."
- If you receive some kind of public assistance, check the box for that in Section 1.
- If your financial situation hasn't changed from when you got the public assistance that you qualify for, then check the box next to "has not."
- Then, you don't have to fill out any of Section 2! Section 2 is for folks whose financial situation has changed since they qualified for public assistance.
- The form needs to be notarized, so don't sign it unless you're in front of a notary!
- For Dane County, the clerks say that they can notarize the form when you submit it. To ask them to notarize the form for you, make sure to bring a government-issued photo ID, and bring your un-signed form to the courthouse to file.
Exception: If a low-income landlord is filing an eviction against a tenant, they might send that landlord to the "duty judge" to decide if the form should be honored. Landlords who own property may not qualify for a fee waiver. However, I think we all know about the weird situations where someone can accidentally become a landlord, so be prepared to explain your situation.
There's a lot more information about Small Claims Court on this website!
- Small Claims Court Tips,
- A Small Claims Court Strategy, and
- Discovery (about getting evidence into Small Claims Court)