What to do about an excessive pet fee?

My lease states that pets are allowed if a “pet agreement” is signed by the tenant; it says nothing else. When I told my landlord that I would be getting a cat, he told me that he would be raising my $2400/month rent by $200 per month for a “pet fee”. Is this legal? I read somewhere that if a fee is excessive it may be illegal. I told my landlord even I would be willing to pay a $200/month deposit, but not a non-refundable $200 increase. Is there anything that I can do?

Asked on September 17, 2010 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

You are lucky to be in California for this one.  It is my understanding that California no longer distinguishes between what a deposit is used for.  In other words, California recognizes only a unitary security deposit. This is defined as any advance payment to the landlord to be used to remedy defaults in rent payments, repair of damage to the premises exclusive of normal wear and tear, cleaning upon vacation by the tenant, or to restore damage to specified landlord personal property in the custody of the tenant where the rental agreement so provides. Landlords may not charge any non-refundable deposits or "fees" {Civil Code Sec. 1950.5}.  The security deposit may not exceed three months' rent if the premises are rented furnished, two months rent if they are rented unfurnished. An amount equal to an extra one-half months rent if the tenant has a waterbed {Civil Code Sec. 1950.5}.  So read your lease and make sure that this is not "added rent" in any way and let your landlord know that it is not permitted under the law.  Sign no separate "agreement" unless an attorney reads it.  Good luck.


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