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Rental Roundtable

Disagreement on 'Pet Rent,' Deposit

March 12, 2000|ROBERT GRISWOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: In an earlier column, attorney Steven R. Kellman indicated that if the landlord charges "pet rent," it may be more difficult for him or her to deduct pet damages from the security deposit when the tenant leaves. He also indicated that a pet deposit is illegal if pet rent is charged.

We recently moved into an apartment where we were charged a nonrefundable pet deposit, and we pay monthly pet rent. Based upon your column, we believe that our landlord is breaking the law.

Can you confirm that we are correct in our assessment and provide legal substantiation so that we can bring this to the landlord's attention?

Attorney Ted Smith replies:

Sometimes the answers to legal questions are not clear. This applies to landlord-tenant law. With all due respect to Kellman, I disagree with his interpretation of the law regarding pet rent.

First, as to the nonrefundable pet deposit, most experts would agree that it probably should be designated as refundable, subject to normal deductions for pet-related cleanup.

The courts have not cleared up the issue of pet rent. Kellman is wrong when he says the landlord cannot collect pet rent. I believe it is legal to charge higher rent for tenants with pets, given the wear and tear on the apartment. This sometimes leads to problems and claims of discrimination. Most property managers ask for a higher security deposit, not higher rent.

Although the pet rent charged by your landlord is not what is usually done, your landlord is not breaking the law.

Kellman replies:

Despite what Smith says, a security deposit can not be deemed nonrefundable, period. You may cite California Civil Code section 1950.5 as proof of this.

Regarding the pet rent, I said in the earlier column that "If 'pet rent' is charged, it may be more difficult for a landlord to deduct pet damages from your security."

This is not to say that it is breaking the law, but I believe that claiming deductions from a deposit for pet damages may be improper when there is additional rent charged to cover the wear and tear of a pet. In such a case, the landlord would be double-charging (extra rent plus extra deposit) for the same possible damages.

Because there is no law exactly covering this point, we must apply existing law, including general rules of reasonableness and fairness. I believe a judge would agree that if additional rent is charged to cover pet wear and tear, it would be fundamentally unfair to claim deductions from the deposit to pay for the same wear and tear.

Tenant-Made Repairs Need to Meet Standards

Q: We have been renting a three-bedroom two-bath home on 2.5 acres for more than three years. We have no written lease with the owner, as our agreement is strictly verbal. We take care of all home and yard maintenance and deduct the costs from our monthly rental payment.

We have dealt with a variety of problems, including major storm damage, new bathroom tile, stove top replacement, ceiling fan installation, extensive landscaping, satellite dish repair and various plumbing repairs. The homeowner has never even come out to check on the work we have done.

My questions: a) Do we have a legal lease or rental agreement? b) what recourse would the owner have if we were to move from the premises with less than 30 days notice? and c) when we vacate, are we liable for any repairs that the owner claims are substandard?

Smith replies:

First, the agreement is legal, even though it's verbal. You have been there for three years but still have just a verbal month-to-month tenancy. You or the owner may terminate this agreement with a written 30-day notice. You would owe 30 days rent from the day you give your notice so, if you move out before then, be prepared to pay, unless the owner finds a qualified replacement resident who moves in before your 30 days are up.

The owner should have done some of the repairs you made. California law requires rental operators to make repairs so the property is "habitable." Despite your generosity, if the repairs you made were not within a workmanlike standard, it is my opinion that the owner has the right to do the job correctly and charge it to you. He could use your security deposit for this or ask you to reimburse him for any substandard repairs. It is to be hoped that things can be worked out since you were nice enough to pay for these repairs during your stay.

Couples May Face Two Application Fees

Q: We are a married couple relocating from the East Coast and were recently shopping for an apartment in the Los Angeles area. We were surprised at the different policies for rental applications.

At some apartment communities, a single application for both of us was required; at other properties, separate applications with separate fees were required. What is the proper legal procedure concerning rental applications and screening fees for married couples in California?

Smith replies:

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