Dear PoPville – When Renting an Apartment, are Deposits for Pets Legal?

Photo by PoPville flickr user theupper

Dear PoPville,

I just recently toured a newly built apartment community in D.C. On their website, they had previously listed a non-refundable pet deposit for $500 per pet. Within the last week or so, it now says “N/A.” When I asked the leasing the office, they said that the legal team found out that a deposit like that for pets is ILLEGAL in D.C. I’ve been paying a deposit like that ever since I moved here (when moving to a new place/community)! I tried poking around online to find out about this, but no luck. I really don’t see a great reason that they’d “make it up” since they’re losing a good bit of money by not keeping the fee. What’s up?

29 Comment

  • It is my understanding that the landlord can take a pet deposit as long as the full security deposit amount does not exceed one months rent. Call 311 and ask to speak to the Office of the Tenant Advocate. They should be able to help you.

    • Correct. However, a landlord can charge an additional pet fee as long as it is treated as a one-time non-refundable fee rather than a refundable security deposit.

  • Here is an odd sidebar. I just read on the DC SPCA website that they have a ferret for adoption, but it had this caveat “YOU CANNOT OWN A FERRET IF YOU ARE A DC RESIDENT AS THEY ARE ILLEGAL IN THE DISTRICT. WILL ONLY BE ADOPTED OUT TO NON D.C. RESIDENTS.” Who heard of such? How can we have a city full of pittbulls (99% of the dogs at the pound are pit bulls, seriously) but not allow a ferret? What other animals can you not have in DC?

    • Tigers, Lions, Hyena, Giraffe, Hippos, Gazelle, Cheetah, Elephants, Bald Eagles, Chickens.

      I can come up with some others if you would like.

      • To quote Forrest Gump. “momma always said stupid is as stupid does”

        None of those are common household pets. Chickens are marginal but everybody knows they are not allowed in DC, quite frequently in the papers.

        I think I read that hedgehogs are also not allowed in DC as pets.

    • Google “Ferrets ate my face.” I’m serious.

      • Google “Pit Bull ate my face” I’m serious

        • The difference is between domesticated animals and wild rodents. Pit bulls have to be trained to attack. Ferrets will do so unprovoked. It makes me sad to hear people repeat baseless attacks on pits. They’re really sweet dogs. It’s unfortunately they’re so popular with bad people.

    • I’ve been told that reptiles (snakes, lizards, alligators) are illegal to keep as pets in DC. Not sure if that’s true.

    • “Also, let’s not forget – let’s *not* forget, Dude – that keeping wildlife, an amphibious rodent, for uh, domestic, you know, within the city – that aint legal either.” – Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski

  • Not sure but I’ve never heard of a non-refundable “deposit” … wouldn’t that just be a fee?

  • The first commenter is correct – I was told this by a rental agent for a building also when I asked about pet deposits/fees. Is the OP confusing the term “deposit” with “fee”?

    • Probably- It is almost always an upfront fee, rather than an actual deposit.

      • And by fee you mean shakedown. I have a cat and refuse to live in a building that would charge me extra for her.

        • I understand where you’re coming from, but you might feel differently if you were the property owner responsible for cleaning up the destruction and smell left by some pets, yes even cats.

          We charge a “pet rent” of $15 a month.

        • Then it’s a pretty good bet that a lot of people — me, included — would not rent to you. As a petowner, I understand your attachment to and faith in your cat. As a landlord, however, I am not taking anybody’s word that their cat (or dog or illegal ferret) will cause no damage to my property. And that’s because I have no ability to verify that, and no offense, but everybody thinks his pet is the greatest. I love my dog, but he tore the sh*t out of some drywall and baseboards for a solid 6 months, and it cost me a couple grand to repair when all was said and done. Why would I take on the added risk of an X-factor pet with the amount of the security deposit? A new tenant is a gamble in her own right — vet all you want, but someday, you’ll get stuck with a tenant who is not as advertised. Why would I add an animal into the limited amount of protection I get with a deposit? The pet fee is just basic risk management.

        • While charging a pet fee seems like an act of animal blasphemy that some are willing to liken to a shakedown, which seems melodramatic to say, even with your perfect scruffy whom you couldn’t possibly imagine to do anything that might require extra services for cleaning or perhaps damage caused to an apartment – what if you were the owner/landlord and someone wanted to rent out an apartment of yours and they pleaded that their version of perfect scruffy would never do anything to damage the place. Wouldn’t you want to take some measure or steps just in case perfect scruffy had an aberrant day or moment?

          I ask this, even as a person who loves animals.

  • I’m the OP, and I definitely mixed up the two words, fee/deposit. Originally, their website had $500 listed for the “pet fee/deposit,” and right before visiting, I noticed the change. Their use of the word “deposit” messed me up, since I KNOW I won’t ever see the money again.

    I kind of agree that it’s a shakedown having to pay a fee for a cat. Even when people visit our place, they STILL don’t know we have a pet unless we tell them.

    • It’s not a shakedown, just owners trying to protect their property. I’ve gone to open houses where the house or condo was owned by cat lovers. The stench can be overwhelming.

  • DC Code Section 8-1808(h)(1):

    Except as provided in this subsection, no person shall import into the District, possess, display, offer for sale, trade, barter, exchange, or adoption, or give as a household pet any living member of the animal kingdom including those born or raised in captivity, except the following: domestic dogs (excluding hybrids with wolves, coyotes, or jackals), domestic cats (excluding hybrids with ocelots or margays), domesticated rodents and rabbits, captive-bred species of common cage birds, nonpoisonous snakes, fish, and turtles, traditionally kept in the home for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes, and racing pigeons (when kept in compliance with permit requirements).

    It appears that domestic guinea pigs are fine, as are hamsters etc…

  • The reason it’s “non-refundable” is because the city will not let owners return it. Owners can only hold a deposit equal to one-month’s rent so they have to charge a fee for worst-case scenarios. However, because of the security deposit limitations, most owner’s who would be perfectly fine returning a pet fee if there is no damage are not allowed to. If they do, they break the law. They don’t because they can’t. Not because it’s a shakedown. Thank the mayor.

  • It is reasonable to charge a fee. I live in an apartment that had two cats a few tenants before me. Even after a professional cleaning the carpet in the bed room made me sneeze and my nose run. My landlord ended up replacing the carpet, and he was out a little less than a thousand dollars.

  • Why would an apartment community choose to not have it? That’s what had me puzzled. I agree that “shakedown” is a harsh word, and agree there are definitely some bad pets and pet owners out there.

  • It would just be a bit easier to take if the fee had the same guidelines as a security deposit. For every bad pet apartment out there, there is probably 3 good ones.

  • Pets always result in some damage or the need for a higher level of maintenance. After a few years of allowing tenants to have pets, I gave up. Just the added maintenance of cleaning all the fur and the nonstop new stains that would popup on the carpets in the common hallways/etc. was enough to kill the idea. The whole building eventually starts to smell of animals and pet food. Owners get used to the smell, but you can always tell. Inside the apartments there are a whole other set of circumstances with maintenance and damages, of which costs are pretty impossible to recoup. Also, if you have a common laundry room, expect all the machines/vents/etc to be full of fur, which is something other tenants may not be thrilled with. I’d say a landlord that allows pets in the building for a small monthly fee is being very generous. It’s easy to not notice all the work being done around you when you are not involved. It’s really not shakedown.

    • +1

      Throwing around the word shakedown is telling. I generally love pets and I love fuel-efficient driving habits (see previous post re: Prius), but the righteousness evidenced by “shakedown” and “ust1nk” is overwhelming.

  • Being a dog owner and a landlord, I think I can add some insight into this. Even the best, well trained pet(s) are bound to have an accident or two in the house. In the case of renters, unfortunately, they tend to be rather lax sometimes in the clean up. If the animals have multiple accidents that aren’t cleaned up quickly (looking at you, cats) and you have to replace the carpet, you also have to replace the padding and possibly the flooring underneath it too.

    All said, in Delaware, it is “refundable” (i.e. damage or additional cleaning) deposit equal to one months rent.

    There truly is nothing worse than having an apartment/house with the crazy cat lady smell. Then you have to go find another crazy cat lady to rent it the next time.

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