Yesterday I learned a lot about the small claims court system here in NYC. Fortunately, I was neither a plaintiff nor a defendant, but rather a witness for the defense. You might remember several months ago when one of my roommates abruptly moved out of the apt one night. She later had the chutzpah to demand her deposit back, even though she left after the first of the month having not paid rent for that month, and without any notice. One thing I have learned about plaintiffs, having been on both sides of minor court cases in the past: They are often ruled by emotion far more than logic. No matter how unlikely to prevail, people take leave of logic in favor of what they perceive to be righteous anger and justice.
You would be amazed at how busy the small claims court system is. There were hundreds of people there. (You would also be amazed how many dog grooming salons seem to be the defendants in these cases.) Because the system is so overburdened, NYC has set up a group of arbitrators next to the court. People who agree to arbitration can have their cases expedited and the process is somewhat less formal. People who agree to arbitration forego their right to appeal, but since this is a fairly cost prohibitive thing anyway (and hardly worth it for the amounts in question), many people agree to go this route. In this case both my ex roommate and landlord agreed and so we were whisked off to a room with a very pleasant arbitrator delicately giving everyone a chance to be heard (and validated).
My ex roommate told a pretty outlandish tale about how she just HAD to move out, because she feared for her life from our other roommate after he stumbled around drunk one night. Never mind the fact that she stayed a full ten days after that night and then hugged him goodbye as she was moving out. I was really amazed that she would go to all this effort for what seemed like a really lost cause. (I was especially amazed by all the effort since when we were roommates she never seemed to be able to get it together enough to even clean the bathroom once. But I suppose money is a greater motivator for everyone.)
If I had to guess, I would say my ex landlord won the case pretty easily, but one never knows and he is awaiting the arbitrator’s decision which should arrive by mail in the next day or two. As an interesting footnote, I saw a handsome guy who looked vaguely familiar at the court, and when I got home I had received an email (through a dating site I am on) from this guy, asking me if I had been to small claims court that day. Small world, small claims.