Pet Fee for Rentals: A Landlord’s Guide to Pet Deposits and Pet Fees

  • Alex Gioia
  • 0
  • March 1, 2023

For some landlords, the prevailing instinct is to take on as little risk as possible. This means unless they are legally required, a majority of landlords won’t allow their tenants to have pets. While taking on fewer risks is generally a wise real estate investment decision, avoiding some risks can be short-sighted. Most households, roughly 68%, in America are pet owners. If a landlord decides not to allow pets, this means out of the gate, they are eliminating a vast number of potential tenants. In the long run, a landlord could lose out on far more revenue from rent than it could lose from the cost of damages caused by pets. Allowing tenants to have their furry friends has its advantages.


And yet, only about half of landlords allow for pets which means potential homes for tenants with pets come at a premium. The demand for pet-friendly rentals is always high. Not only does this increase the demand through a larger pool of potential tenants, but tenants with pets are also willing to pay a premium because of their limited options. There are ways to reduce risks as well beyond increased rent. You can charge tenants with pets a pet deposit and pet fees. 

Know the Law: Illegal to Charge for Service Animals or Emotional Support Animals


Navigating the labyrinth of federal, state, and municipal laws can be a difficult task which is why some landlords opt for property management companies. The laws around pets and pet fees will vary city by city and state by state, so before deciding on a policy, read up on all your local and state laws. For example, federal fair housing act laws ban all pet fees and deposits for all service dogs and animals. Service animals aren’t just limited to those with physical disabilities. They also include those with emotional disabilities like anxiety or PTSD. For this reason, pet fees and deposits aren’t allowed for emotional support animals either. 

Allowing Pets: Pros and cons




More potential tenants: More simply put, supply and demand. The more renters compete for your rental property, the more you can charge for rent, and the lower your vacancy rate will be. You can shorten the time your unit sits vacant when turning it over and increase your annual revenue. 


Honesty is the best policy 


Because of the limited number of rental units available to tenants with pets, tenants will sometimes just end up hiding the fact they have a pet. This can be solved by evicting a tenant for violating their lease, but you’ll need to turn over the rental property again and let it sit vacant. Like anything prohibited, some will break the rules for their convenience or gain, so sometimes the best thing to do is just allow it and charge fees upfront. 


Long-term tenants 


The longer a tenant stays in a rental property, the fewer days that unit sits unoccupied on the market. If tenants move out after their lease is up every year, you’ll likely, at best, have a unit that misses out on a month of revenue annually. That missed revenue compounds over time. Since options are limited for renters with pets, they tend to stay in their rentals longer than tenants without pets. 




Noise pollution


Keeping other tenants or neighbors happy is part of being a successful landlord. If one tenant is causing a lot of noise and disturbing others in the building or nearby, that can be an issue. At best, you’ll need to resolve the matter with angry neighbors, and at worst, a noising unit may cause other tenants to leave. If a pet is regularly barking whenever a person walks by or whines and cries at all hours of the day, it can have a negative impact on your business. 




The size of the pet doesn’t determine the amount of damage that can be caused, and there can be a lot of damage. It can be anything from scratched floors, shredded screens, stained carpets, chewed-up moldings, etc. Even with an increased security deposit and pet fees, this may not cover the total damage caused by a pet. 


Potential human harm


While it is unlikely, there is always the possibility that a pet may attack another tenant, neighbor, or worker who is on the property. This risk can be mitigated by good communication with your tenants, but it can never eliminate all risks or unforeseen circumstances. 


Flea infestation 


No, I’m not talking about the bass player from Red Hot Chili Peppers crashing on the couch. I’m talking about the flea that drives you and your dog crazy. A pet with fleas spreading the bugs all over your building can have a costly impact on your business which is one reason it should be considered when making your pet policy. 


What is a Pet Policy?


A pet policy is a comprehensive policy for landlords regarding allowing pets on their properties. A good pet policy weighs all of the pros and cons of tenants with pets, along with all of the potential damage costs and financial gains, and makes it reasonable for tenants to afford. There are a few options regarding pet fees for your pet policy. 


When choosing a pet policy, you must first know what is legally allowed in your city and state. Some cities and states do not allow any non-refundable fees or deposits when it comes to rental units. For example, California does not allow non-refundable pet fees. Upon moving out, a landlord can only use the funds from a security deposit based on actual damages caused by the tenant or their pet. 


Pet deposits may also be illegal or limited in certain states. For example, in California, they are legal, but they can’t exceed more than the sum of two months of rent or three months if the unit is fully furnished. Again, the laws are different wherever you go, so the best advice is to seek advice from local experts.  



Pet Deposits, Pet Fees, and Pet Rent: What’s the Difference?


Pet deposits, fees, and rent all accomplish the same thing differently. Depending on your local laws, your options can be limited, but you’ll be able to address your needs regardless of where you are. Here is how they work: 


Pet deposit vs. Security deposit:


A security deposit is typically used to cover potential costs from damages with an average tenant. In contrast, a pet deposit is traditionally used to cover the specific costs related to damages caused by pets.


What is a Pet Deposit?


 A pet deposit is a separate one-time, refundable fee in addition to a regular deposit. The amount in the deposit is then used to cover some of the damage that may be caused by the tenant’s pet. If the damage caused by the pet doesn’t exceed the deposit, the landlord must return the rest of the pet deposit along with any of the regular deposit left over.

Pet Deposit Pros:


The significant advantage of the pet deposit is a tenant will pay the money upfront. If the tenant leaves the property for any reason before the lease is over or they leave after just one year, you should have enough money to cover any possible damages. 

Pet deposit Cons:


If the tenant ends up being a long-term tenant, the pet deposit may not be enough to cover all of the damage. It also may cause damage to portions of the home that would’ve required repairs over time which means a landlord might be unable to charge the tenant. 


Pet Deposit vs. Pet Fee


A pet deposit is a refundable deposit, while a pet fee is a one-time, non-refundable fee. What does a non-refundable pet deposit cover? Whatever the landlord wants, since it is a one-time fee, the tenant can’t get back. 


What is Pet Rent?


Pet rent is simple to understand. It’s just charging rent for the specific pet. You can charge whatever amount for a monthly fee that seems fair as long as tenants are willing to pay. The amount gets included in their rent, and they pay it along with their monthly rent. So, what does pet rent cover? It’s included as part of the rent, which means it can cover any costs over time.

Pet Rent Pros: 


If you tend to have low turnover with your tenants, this may be the best option. It allows you to collect more revenue over time than you could with a pet deposit or pet fee. This is also money that doesn’t need to be refunded and can be used to make all necessary repairs if and when you need to turn over the unit to a new tenant. 

Pet Rent Cons:


If the tenant leaves after a short period, you may not be able to college enough to cover any damages caused by the tenant’s pet. The shorter your tenant stays, combined with the amount of damage caused by the pet, means a landlord could lose money. 


What Are Pet Fees?


What is a pet fee? A pet fee is a simple one-time fee that is non-refundable. A landlord can collect the money and use it for repairs regardless if the pet causes any damage or not. For this reason, some states and cities have banned this kind of fee in favor of the refundable pet deposit. 

Pet Fee Pros


You get a one-time payment up front and never have to worry about collecting more or proving the costs of repairs from the pet. It’s a simple fee and hassle-free, not requiring any extra effort or thought once collected. Like the pet deposit, this will cover any costs of repairs from damages caused by pets if the tenant doesn’t stay long. 

Pet Fee Cons 


It’s not legal in some places, which makes it a pretty big con as it would leave you open to litigation. Beyond the legal issues, it isn’t very enticing for potential tenants. You may be able to get by with this kind of policy in a housing shortage, but if there is a good supply of housing, tenants will simply choose better options.


Pet Fee vs. Pet Deposit 


A pet fee is a one-time fee that is typically non-refundable. It is illegal in states like California, which makes the refundable pet deposit the more traditional type of pet fee. 

What Should I Charge?


Start with whatever the market rate is for rent in your area. This should be in line with what you can charge based on similar units, and hopefully, that will be able to cover all other expenses. Regarding additional pet fees, you’ll need to consult your local laws, which will determine if there are any limits on what you’re allowed to charge. As mentioned before, states like California limit how much you can charge for a security deposit. As far as pet fees and pet rent go, you’ll want to charge a reasonable amount; otherwise, you may scare off potential tenants and ultimately limit the amount of rent you can charge. 


Can I Use a Security Deposit to Cover Pet Damage?


You can use a security deposit to cover any damages that require repairs that wouldn’t need to have been made through normal wear and tear. This means if a rabbit chewed up the corner of a wall which requires you to replace the drywall, that could be taken out of a security deposit. If a tenant stays in the unit for a decade and a pet scratches some of the paint on the walls, you may not be able to use the security deposit because you would need to repaint the walls anyway. 


Every state has different laws, and some won’t allow you to use security deposit funds to pay for damage from pets. This is on top of laws that limit what kind of repairs security deposits can be used for. Regardless of which pet policy you choose, you’ll set yourself up for success as a landlord by protecting yourself from any financial risks. 



FAQs About Pet Fees


Can a landlord deny a pet?


Yes, a landlord can choose not only the kind of pets they allow their tenants to have, but they can also choose specific breeds. For example, some landlords ban specific breeds like Pitbulls because they see them as more aggressive than other breeds. This excludes any service or emotional support animals. Landlords are required by fair housing laws to allow all service and emotional support animals. 


Isn’t pet rent normal? Shouldn’t it be free to have pets in rentals?


Typically there is some fee for tenants who have pets. This can be implemented in several ways, but it is standard industry practice. Because pets create higher costs and risks, landlords typically want to cover those risks. 


What happens if your tenant is hiding a pet?


This is up to the landlord. Typically, most leases state clearly that if a tenant violates the lease agreement, they can be evicted, but evictions can be costly and time-consuming. This means a landlord may want to allow the tenant to find a new home for their pet or ask them to find a new place before eviction. 


Are emotional support animals excluded from pet fees and deposits?


Yes. Service and emotional support animals are excluded from any pet fees or deposits. Fair housing laws make them an extension of the tenant which means landlords can’t deny them even if they don’t allow pets at all. 

What do most landlords charge for pets?


This depends on your local market and which option you choose. For example, pet rent may be as low as an extra 10 dollars a month and as high as an extra 50 a month. The best option is to look around and see what other landlords are charging. 

Can a landlord charge extra for a pet?


This is the function of all pet fees. The reason is to charge extra to cover the additional damages pets typically cause over time. 

What is the refund policy for pet deposits?


Consult your local laws, but typically any money not used to cover damages should be refunded. 

Can pet deposits be used for damages?


This all depends on your local laws and what you’re able to use security deposits and pet deposits for. Typically, the two deposits are separate and reserved to cover specific types of damages. Pet deposits are used for pet-related damages, and security deposits are used for the rest. 



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