In small claims court you can recover the amount of the security deposit plus court costs, and possibly also a penalty and interest, up to a maximum of $7,500. For amounts greater than $7,500, you must file in superior court, and you ordinarily will need a lawyer in order to effectively pursue your case. in such a lawsuit, the landlord has the burden of proving that his or her deductions from your security deposit were reasonable.
Proving Your Case
If you prove to the court that the landlord acted in "bad faith" in refusing to return your security deposit, the court can order the landlord to pay you the amount of the improperly withheld deposit, plus up to twice the amount of the security deposit as a "bad faith" penalty. the court can award a bad faith penalty in addition to actual damages whenever the facts of the case warrant-even if the tenant has not requested
Collecting Attorney Fees
Whether you can collect attorney's fees if you win such a suit depends on whether the lease or rental agreement contains an attorney's fee clause. if the lease or rental agreement contains an attorney's fee clause, you can claim attorney's fees as part of the judgment, even if the clause states that only the landlord can collect attorney's fees. however, you can only collect attorney's fees if you were represented by an attorney.
Additional resources provided by the author
Here is the CA Gov PDF which will answer most LL/T Questions.