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Ask the County Law Librarian: Can Landlord Impose Pet Deposit Midway Through Lease?



saclaw logoDear Law Librarian,

We are 7 months into our 12 month lease at our home. My landlord recently found out that my dog broke one of the very old windows in our house which we immediately replaced with new, up-to-code (and much stronger) glass at our own expense.

However, she has decided that he is now “capable of anything.” She is requiring us to put down an additional $500 “pet fee” and up our renter’s insurance liability to 1 million dollars.

Is this legal? I understand that she is worried but we have never had any incidents with our dog and it was the thin, old glass that was the issue in the first place.

Thank you very much,

Rachele

Dear Rachele,

Your landlord is not entitled to change your lease mid-way through the term.

You don’t say whether your lease has a no-pets clause. It’s permissible to refuse to rent to tenants who have pets, or impose conditions on permitting tenants to have pets. There are exceptions for service animals. Cal. Civil Code § 54.1(b)(5).

If your lease does have a no-pets clause, your landlord might be able to evict you if you refuse to get rid of the dog. That is her only option until the lease runs out.

Even if your lease does have a no-pets clause, if she knew about the dog and never objected until the window-breaking incident, the judge might refuse to grant the eviction on the grounds that the landlord waived the no-pets clause.

However, at the end of the lease she is entitled to refuse to renew the lease unless you accept her conditions. (If your lease ends without being renewed in writing, but you continue to stay in the house and pay rent, the lease turns into a month-to-month rental agreement. Cal. Civil Code § 1945. Once that happens, your landlord can change the terms of the agreement with 30 days’ notice.)

The landlord is entitled to raise the deposit as long as it does not exceed two months’ rent (three months’ if the residence is furnished). Cal. Civil Code § 1950.5(c). A landlord can’t add a non-refundable “pet fee.” Any deposit, fee, charge, or payment is legally part of the deposit, and must be refunded if not used for a permissible purpose, such as missed rental payments or repairs. Cal. Civil Code § 1950.5(c).

Landlords are permitted to require renters’ insurance as part of a lease. I haven’t found any limits on the amount of renter’s insurance the landlord can require. Again, this would have to be added after your current lease expires.

You may be able to come to some mutually agreeable solution. If you would like assistance negotiating such a solution, you may want to contact the Sacramento Mediation Center (http://www.sacmediation.org/index.php) or the Housing Mediation Center (http://blogs.mcgeorge.edu/hmc/). Both of these local groups are available to help individuals resolve disputes without the need for litigation.

I hope this helps. Thanks!

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian
www.saclaw.org