California tenants may keep animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs as pets.  These animals enhance their owner’s moods, provide companionship, encourage movement, and reduce stress.  However, some pet owners give all pet owners a bad reputation by allowing their pets to destroy property, defecate and urinate freely, and attack others at will.  With this in mind, some landlords have prohibited California tenants from keeping pets.  While others allow California tenants to keep pets in their units, they impose a pet deposit. But are pet deposits legal in California?  This article relates to the imposition of pet deposits on California tenant leases.

What is a Pet Deposit?

A pet deposit is a refundable payment imposed on a tenant to reimburse the landlord for costs associated with damage caused by a pet kept in the unit following the tenant vacating the unit.

Are Pet Deposits the Same as Security Deposits?

While carrying different labels, security, and pet deposits are functionally and legally identical in California.  Because pet deposits are a fee charged to California tenants to protect landlords from prospective property damage, the law treats them as a security deposit.  To that end, both are governed by California Civil Code section 1950.5, which pertains to security deposits.

What Law Governs Pet Deposits in California?

California Civil Code section 1950.5 governs pet deposits in California.  California Civil Code § 1950.5.

May Landlords Charge California Tenants A Pet Deposit?

Yes, landlords may charge California tenants a pet depositCalifornia Civil Code § 1950.5

May Landlords Make A Pet Deposit Non-Refundable?

No, the landlord nor the lease may ever make a pet deposit non-refundable in California.  California Civil Code § 1950.5(m).

May Landlords Charge California Tenants A Pet Deposit for an Emotional Support Animal?

No, landlords are not permitted to charge California tenants a pet deposit for an emotional support animal.  42 USCS § 3604(f)(3)(B); 24 CFR § 100.204(b); Joint Statement of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Dev. And the Dept. of Justice, “Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act,” at p. 9, ¶11, Example 2 (May 17, 2004); 2 Cal. Code Regs. § 11065(a)(1)(D).  But, landlords may charge California tenants for damage caused by the emotional support animal.

Click here to read more about California tenants’ rights regarding emotional support animals in their homes.

How Can California Tenants Protect Their Pet Deposit When Moving Out?

 When a California tenant plans to vacate their home, it is best to plan to take the following steps to best ensure a full return of their pet deposit:

  • Inspect the unit alone and repair any pet caused damage.  Where landlords often fail to consider cost when repairing pet damage, the tenant is likely to find and hire a competent and affordable option when repairing damage.  Failing to repair known pet damage could result in the California tenant suffering an unreasonable an excessive deduction from their pet deposit;
  • Request a pre-move out inspection with the landlord and establish that the pet did not cause any damages to the rental unit or common areas; and,
  • Decide whether to repair any alleged damage identified by the landlord during the inspection.

Who Can Request a Pet Deposit Pre-Move Out Inspection?

All residential California tenants have a right to request a pre-move out inspection to identify pet damage. California Civil Code § 1950.5(f)(1).

What Are the Tenant’s Options Following the Pet Deposit Pre-Move Out Inspection?

After the landlord identifies any alleged damage, the tenant is then afforded an opportunity to repair valid pet damage or thoroughly document the alleged damage before returning the unit to the landlord.

When Do Pet Deposit Pre-Move Out Inspections Occur?

Generally, pre-move out inspections to identify pet damage occurs a week or two before the tenant plans to vacate the unit.  However, pre-moveout inspections cannot occur earlier than two weeks before the tenant plans to vacate the unit.

What Notice Must Landlords Provide Before Entering a Unit for a Pet Deposit Pre-Move Out Inspection?

Where the landlord requests the inspection, they must provide forty-eight (48) hour written notice stating the inspection date and time.  The notice must contain the following language: “State law permits former tenants to reclaim abandoned personal property left at the former address of the tenant, subject to certain conditions. You may or may not be able to reclaim property without incurring additional costs, depending on the cost of storing the property and the length of time before it is reclaimed. In general, these costs will be lower the sooner you contact your former landlord after being notified that property belonging to you was left behind after you moved out.”

The tenant and landlord can agree to waive the written notice requirement by jointly signing a written waiver.  California Civil Code § 1950.5(f)(1).

Upon the California Tenant’s Request, May A Landlord Perform the Pet Deposit Pre-Move Out Inspection Alone?

Please note that the landlord can unilaterally perform the inspection alone after serving written notice, unless the tenant withdraws their request for the inspection.

What Writings Must a Landlord Provide Following a Pet  Deposit Pre-Move Out Inspection?

Following the inspection, the landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized list of repairs or cleaning that will support any later pet deposit deductions, and the text of California Civil Code section 1950.5(b)(1)-(4). California Civil Code § 1950.5(f)(2).

What Damages Are California Tenants Entitled for Improper Pet Deposit Deductions?

Where the landlord improperly deducts from the pet deposit, or fails to return it at all, the California tenant must request full return of the pet deposit, preferably in writing.  Should the landlord ignore that notice, the California tenant may consider suing the landlord in court.

If a tenant is forced into filing a lawsuit to recover a partial or fully wrongfully withheld pet deposit, the tenant is entitled to recover the principal withheld, but also – where the landlord is found to withhold the pet deposit in bad faith – damages of up to twice the amount of the pet deposit wrongfully withheld.  California Civil Code § 1950.5(l).  The California tenant may also recover actual damages associated with the landlord’s improper withholding of the pet deposit.  Id.

Common examples of bad faith include failing to provide an itemized statement of deductions at all, failing to attach proof of costs and proof of payment to an itemized statement of deductions, withholding the pet deposit as a means of retaliation for the tenant asserting a right, harassing, or intimidating the tenant for requesting their pet deposit refund, and overcharging the tenant for repair work.

California tenants suffering from a landlord’s improper pet deposit deductions can recover these damages in court.  Often, California tenants achieve success representing themselves in small claims court, which exists to hear cases involving fewer than $10,000.00 efficiently and quickly. Where the total amount sought in court exceeds $10,000.00, the tenant should consider filing in a larger court, as small claim’s court limitation will not suffice in making the California tenant whole.

What is the Best California Law Firm to Handle Pet Deposit Disputes?

Astanehe Law is the best landlord-tenant law firm to handle California tenant pet deposit claims.  Astanehe Law has successfully resolved numerous landlord-tenant cases throughout California, including for many tenants possessing claims pertaining to their pets.  The firm only represents California tenants, and never landlords.  It is never too early to establish a relationship with an experienced California tenant attorney when the landlord attempts to harass or otherwise disturb the California tenant’s rights as they pertain to their pet.  Contact Astanehe Law to discuss your rights and options as a California tenant as they pertain to pet deposits.