Q. I allowed my tenant to have a dog. Apparently, it died, and now he wants the $500 pet deposit back. Do I have to return it?
Generally, pet deposits are treated like security deposits. So, yes, in all likelihood you will have to return any unused portion, but probably not until the lease ends.
Here are a couple of things to consider:
What does your lease say? Did you limit the pet provision to only that one specific dog? Chances are you have a “pet lease” which allows for the tenant to own an approved pet. This may allow him to get another one. If you return the deposit now and he can legally get another dog, you may be left hanging in the wind if it causes damage to your unit.
Do you need to make deductions from the deposit? If the tenant is still residing in the unit, there is really no way to accurately assess whether the previous pet damaged the unit. Once this tenant moves out, you can check for hidden damage – like stains to carpet or scratches on the baseboards, that is not clearly visible behind his furnishings. If you return the deposit now, you may compromise your ability to collect for those damages later. There may be some question whether you can deduct those damages from the security deposit since you specifically asked for a pet deposit, and returned it.
What about local laws? In cases like this, your best course of action is to give your attorney a call. The specific language of your lease agreement needs to be reviewed in conjunction with your specific state and local laws. But it appears clear that if you return the deposit early, that may have some impact on your rights at the end of the lease.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.