Can a landlord keep the deposit if it was a pet deposit but the animal became a companion animal?

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Can a landlord keep the deposit if it was a pet deposit but the animal became a companion animal?

When we first moved in I didn’t realize that I was allowed a companion animal so we paid the pet deposit and pet rent. Once I learned of this I had my DR. right me a letter and we the leasing office took off my pet rent and instead of

refunded the pet deposit rolled it over to the other deposit. We are moving out soon and I thought because it was a pet deposit they had to refund it due to my dog not being considered a pet any longer. However, the leasing office new management just told me that it rolled over to the other deposit and now is considered just an additional deposit. Meaning we are not guaranteed that $500 back. Is this allowed?

Asked on July 19, 2018 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

You are correct: if an animal is bona fide service animal, including an emotional support or companion animal when there is documented medical need for one, the landlord may not charge a pet deposit or additional "pet rent"--and if a pet deposit had been paid for a service, etc. animal, it must be returned. If the landlord does not return that money, you would have good grounds to sue for its return. Bear in mind, however, that if your animal caused damage, you may be charged for it--an animal being a service, etc. animal does not absolve the tenant of his/her obligation to not damage the landlord's property, or to pay for damage he/she or his/her household (including animals) do. So if there is animal-related damage you may be charged it; if total amounts you owe the landlord at move out (for all damage, pet-related or not; any unpaid rent)  exceed the regular security deposit, the landlord could sue (or if you sue the landlord, counterclaim or countersue) for the excess. So depending on what you owe and why, it may not be worthwhile trying to recover the pet deposit, if you owe you landlord a sufficient amount that the landlord will have a claim against you in an amount equal to or exceeding the pet deposit.


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