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Landlord-Tenant Law

Can you Charge a Pet Deposit in California?

With household pet ownership in the United States sitting at somewhere around 70%, it’s not surprising that lots of renters are looking for a home where their furry friends can live too. In Los Angeles alone in 2019, 2.9 million tenants owned cats or dogs, which is more than half of the renter population.

Allowing cats and dogs (and other pets) or not can impact how attractive your property is to potential renters, however, pets often cause additional damage to a property. This is why many landlords think about pet deposits, but can you charge a pet deposit in California?

What is a pet deposit?

Part of setting a landlord pet policy is deciding what kind of fees to charge in order to protect your property from damage. In rental property management, there are a few different types of fees associated with pets. These can be combined or used alone, depending on your rental agreement and state law.

  • A pet deposit is payable at the beginning of the tenancy and much like a standard deposit, the tenant can expect to get this back at the end of their term, assuming the pet has not caused any damage. If any damage is caused, the cost of repairs will come out of the pet deposit.
  • Pet rent, on the other hand, is similar to the monthly rent that a tenant pays for the duration of their stay. The pet rent is paid in addition to monthly rent and will not be returned to the tenant at the end of the agreement.
  • Pet fees are somewhere in between pet rents and fees. They are one-off, non-refundable fees for allowing pets to live in your rental. Think of them as compensation ahead of time for any animal-related damage that might be done to your property.

Are landlords obligated to charge pet deposits?

Whether or not a landlord decides to set charges related to pets is up to them. We’ve all heard horror stories of damage incurred to rental properties by unruly cats and dogs, from stains and odors to scratches and chew marks on the walls, floors, and doors. Charging pet fees can offset the cost of repairing this damage without increasing your expenses. A clear pet policy can also prevent the tenant from bringing in undisclosed pets without the approval of the landlord, leading to further issues down the line.

pets in rentals

What is the law in California regarding pet deposits?

In terms of pet deposit, California law stipulates that refundable pet deposits can be charged. However, the total deposit amount, including the pet deposit, can’t exceed two months of rent in total. This limit increases to three months’ rent for furnished properties.

If a landlord decides not to allow pets as a blanket rule, renters with emotional service animals can request that this be overturned. Non-refundable pet/security deposits are illegal in California and should not be charged.

Can you charge pet rent or pet fees instead?

Whereas there are restrictions on pet deposits in California, there are no set rules for pet rent or pet fees. For example, a landlord can choose to add an additional $20 to the rent payment each month to cover any pet amenities or maintenance costs that may arise.

Depending on how you manage your properties, you may choose to bundle pet rent with the standard rent to make rent collection more straightforward.

Some areas in California, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, have rent control in place. This means you can charge pet rent but only if it doesn’t put the total rent over the rent-controlled limit. So, while there are no set guidelines when it comes to how much pet rent to charge, you must ensure it doesn’t violate the rent control legislation.

What do other states say about pet deposits?

Many states don’t have explicit statutes regarding pet deposits, but common practice is for landlords and tenants to come to their own agreement.

In addition to California, states like Hawaii and Montana do not allow landlords to charge non-refundable pet deposits. If you’re located outside one of these states, check your state or local law to see if it is permissible to request any pet-related charges from your tenants.

What about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)?

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords are legally required to make a reasonable accommodation to allow ESAs. This means that landlords cannot demand any additional charges for ESAs, even if they normally require these fees from other tenants with pets. This remains the case, whether you want to charge a refundable pet deposit, one-off pet fee, or monthly pet rent.

Services such as PetScreening give landlords and property managers the ability to validate assistance animals in accordance with the FHA.

Final words

A clear pet policy is a key part of having open communication between tenants with pets and their landlords. It can be the difference between paying for pet-induced wear and tear out of your own pocket and having this covered by the tenant.

When determining the charge for a pet deposit, California guidelines should be referred to, to ensure that the deposit, as well as pet rent and pet fees, are compliant with state law.
Keep track of your pet (and people) deposits and rent collection using purpose-built property management software like Landlord Studio.

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Ben Luxon

Ben is the editor and lead writer for Landlord Studio. He has worked with real estate professionals all over the world and written educational articles on tech, real estate, and financial growth for sites such as Forbes, TechBullion, and Business Magazine.

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