Culver City Observer -

By David W. Myers
Managing Editor 

State has Limits on Small Claims Lawsuits

Real Estate Corner


August 9, 2018

DEAR DAVE: How much can I sue a real estate contractor or other person for in Small Claims Court?

ANSWER: Limits vary from one state to the next. In California, it’s generally capped at $10,000 but there are lots of technicalities and exceptions.

For example, the $10,000-limit generally applies—but only if you have not filed a suit of more than $2,500 more than twice a year. Additional limitations are placed on government entities and businesses that want to sue a homeowner or other individual in Small Claims Court, and vice-versa.

You can find lots of free information about the Small Claims process and filing a claim at our state’s internet site,

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DEAR DAVE: Our daughter graduated from Culver High last year and is now attending the University of San Diego. We pay $400 each month for her share of the off-campus apartment that she rents with three other students. Can we deduct this cost on our next federal tax return as an “educational expense?”

ANSWER: Sorry, but no.

Though your daughter obviously needs to live somewhere in San Diego, the cost isn’t deductible because the apartment is primarily utilized for sleeping, eating, studying or other personal use. Older renters can’t deduct their rental payments, so the Internal Revenue Service won’t let younger people—or their benefactors—take them either.

Get a free copy of IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, by calling the agency at (800) 829-3676 or by downloading it from Consult an accountant or similar tax professional for more details.

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DEAR DAVE: My neighbor was backing her car out of her driveway but apparently cranked her steering wheel too far to the left, in turn wiping out two young trees that I planted about a year ago between our respective houses. Will she have to pay to replace them?

ANSWER: Yes. California law states that if someone accidently damages your tree, you can recover your “actual” damages—usually, what you originally paid for the tree or the cost of replacing it—said attorney Emily Doscow, author of several law-related books.

It sounds as if you neighbor simply made an honest mistake. But lawyer Doscow notes that if someone intentionally damages your tree, he or she can be held responsible for actual damages and then be sued for an additional three times that amount if it can be proved that the damage was caused deliberately.

In addition, intentionally damaging a tree in California is a criminal offense. A defendant can face arrest, jail, fines and other penalties.

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Our best-selling booklet, “Straight Talk about Living Trusts,” shines the light on the information readers need to determine whether forming an inexpensive trust would be a good idea based on their individual circumstances. For a copy, send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to D. Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405. Net proceeds are donated to the American Red Cross.


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