The prevailing party generally will not be entitled to attorney's fees. However, if there is a contractual attorney's fees provison awarding attorney's fees to the prevailing party, it is possible that the court may award attorney's fees to the prevailing party. (It is further possible that if the attorney's fees award will take the total recovery over the $10,000 small claims limit, the court may not award such attorney's fees to the extent the total award exceeds $10,000.) Otherwise, the court will potentially award attorney's fees only where the initial decision is appealed. Code of Civil Procedure section 116.780(c) provides that the court may award the winning party attorney’s fees actually and reasonably incurred in connection with the appeal, but not exceeding $150 (as well as lost earnings and transportation/lodging expenses not exceeding an additional $150). Section 116.790 allows the court, if it finds the appeal “was without substantial merit and not based on good faith, but was intended to harass or delay the other party, or to encourage the other party to abandon the claim,” discretion to award the other party actual, reasonable fees that do not exceed $1,000 (as well as an additional $1,000 in lost earning and transportation/lodging expenses).
Costs are another matter. There is a very good chance the prevailing party will be awarded costs. In a routine small claims matter, the only likely costs are filing fees and fees incurred to serve the defendant. The filing fee is $30 for claims up to $1500, $50 for claims between $1500 and $5000 (inclusive), and $75 for claims exceeding $5000. If the plaintiff utilizes the sheriff's office to serve the summons and complaint, the it typically runs about $55 to effect service.
This response is for information purpose only and does not constitute a legal advice. This response does not create an attorney-client relationship.
In small claims court, there are no attorneys in the initial trial, and therefore, no attorney's fees ought to be awarded to the prevailing party.
However, the court can award "costs" which are the filing fee and the process server fee. Therefore, that should be the extent of the costs for which you might be liable.
In addition, you might be liable for any unpaid rent if you didn't pay for the period covering the 30 day notice period.
Frank W. Chen is licensed to practice law in the State of California. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, consult your own attorney.
Mr. Chen is correct as to costs that may properly be added to a judgment. There may be some nominal additional expenses claimed for copying costs, etc. My response suggests you step back and start from the beginning of the problem -- are you a party to the contract upon which the administrator seeks to recover, or have you signed a personal guarantee to pay? Look closely at the contract in that regard. Secondly, look to see if it contains a mandatory arbitration provision which may preclude the administrator from suing you in small claims court in the first place (many of these contracts have these provisions to protect the home from being sued in court). Also, there is a very good summary of Small Claims Court information provided by the State of California right here: http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/small_claims/basic_info.shtml
Good question. Good luck...!