What to do if my landlord is withholding a $500 pet deposit which she claims was never a pet deposit but a pet fee?

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What to do if my landlord is withholding a $500 pet deposit which she claims was never a pet deposit but a pet fee?

Our lease says “Pet Deposit” as does my check but because it was never held in “escrow” she says it was a fee. Is she right or am I?

Asked on January 14, 2013 under Real Estate Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

Normally,  a "deposit" is an amount held which will either be returned at the end of the lease or will be applied versus any unpaid rent, damage to the apartment, etc.--that is the plain meaning of the word "deposit," which courts would generally apply if this matter came to trial. While a landlord could certain charge a non-refundable pet fee, the burden would normally be on the landlord to show that it had clearly indicated, prior to the lease being signed or fee paid, that it was nonrefundable. If the lease called this amount a "deposit" and there were nothing in it indicating it was non-refundable, then it most likely was a deposit against pet damage, refundable if there was no such damage (or other pet-related costs imposed on the landlord). While it's impossible to say definitively in advance how a court would rule, based on what you write, you would have a good chance of prevailing if this matter when to court.


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