Hello BP Team,
Reaching out for a little advice needed for some tenant issues we are having.
We are having some tenants moving out that have a pet. They paid their refundable pet deposit of $250 and signed our lease prior to moving in. In our lease we have a section that calls out that tenants with pets have to pay a non-refundable pet cleaning fee of $250 prior to moving out. That $250 is primarily used for cleaning out duct work and any other odds and ends that need to be touched up. This typically is just taken out of the refundable pet deposit.
So here is the kicker, they have documented proof that shows this pet is an “emotional support pet” so they do not need to pay for any cleaning fees as a result of their “emotional support pet”. There has been numerous times when questioning them and they say, I will need to talk with my layer. I personally think this is something they are throw out just so we don’t question them and I am guessing they have never been challenged.
The good thing is we currently hold their pet deposit and initial deposit security deposit. A pet is a pet and whether it is an emotional support pet or just a pet, we are incurring they same amount of damages as owners.
I know this post seems a little bit ridiculous but I am just trying to do as much due diligence on the front end as possible.Thank you in advance for any advise provided.
Let it go...you may have seen this headline in a lawsuit filed in Meeker, Colorado:
"Landlord To Pay $1M In Emotional Support Animal Lawsuit."
It's not worth putting yourself in harm's way over $250. Please refund the pet deposit and offset their security deposit for any damages incurred by either the tenant and/or pet. You cannot charge a separate "pet" anything in these cases (it's a Federal Law).
The good news: they're moving out! So, you're post is not ridiculous at all...some other landlord just paid $1M to find out how the cards are stacked.
Do the cleaning you normally would do and charge them for that. They rented the house in a certain condition and it is expected to be returned in the same condition whether or not they have a pet, kids, etc.
This is not a super clear cut issue, so you should talk to your attorney and get their advice.
Sounds like they had a pet when they moved in and now when someone needs to cover the cost of cleaning after the animal, it has suddenly become an ESA. Did they provide you the ESA paperwork during their tenancy? If not, then they had a pet.
You cannot charge a deposit, extra fees, or rent for an ESA. However, that doesn't mean that the tenant is not required to pay for the additional cost of cleaning the unit due to the animal. You can't charge extra fees for a person in a wheelchair, but that doesn't mean you can't charge them a cleaning fee if the wheelchair left scuff marks all over the floor and baseboards. If you can show that there is animal hair in the air ducts or paw scratches on the floor, document that and you can bill for it to be cleaned/repaired. It doesn't matter if it is an ESA or a pet.
And I would suggest that anytime a tenant or anyone else mentions talking to their attorney, let them know that is best and ask them to have their attorney contact you for your attorney's contact info. "It'll be best for all of us to have the attorneys hash everything out". This smacks them back to the reality that they don't have an attorney and if they want to get one there is going to be a $350/hour bill and a $5K retainer associated with it.
@Ben Einspahr - in the future, be sure to get all the ESA info up-front and be clear that while there isn't an additional fee (it's actually not considered a pet), it is expected that the home is returned as clean. There are privacy issues with ESA and only a few questions that agents are allowed to ask. As an owner, you have much more leeway in what you may ask. There are lots of bogus ESA permits online for $60, feel free to ask for a note from their doctor.
And @Greg M. is spot on.....in the future request attorney to contact you. That's an easy bluff to call! :-)
As far as this place goes, my suggestion is that you return the pet deposit (because it really shouldn't be considered a pet) and take the cleaning fee out of their security deposit. Then return the rest. Good luck!
@Tchaka Owen is correct--service animals and/.or emotional support animals are not considered "pets" in the fed's eyes. While it is easy for tenants to scam this system, it's also the law, and owners need to be aware of those laws.
Pet "deposits" don't make sense--they should be "non-refundable pet fees", and they cannot be charged in the case of the sa or esa. Take the money to clean from the security depost of the owner, not the pet. They'd rather have a treat.
This was a case against a housing authority that forced animal owners to pay a $300 pet fee when the monthly rent was $125.
Yes, definitely adhere to all applicable laws, but don't fall into a freeze either just because a tenant turned their pet into an ESA with the help of a website just before move-out. I am not saying that this is what happened, but you have rights as a landlord, too, and you shouldn't feel scared out of using them ion order to make sure to separate the scammers from the real cases.
Are you sure that the document provided to you states that you cannot request any cleaning fees?
Does their proof state “Emotional Support Pet”, because in a legal sense those don’t exist, there are “Emotional Support Animals”, and a legitimate document would have the correct terminology.
Let the ‘pet fee’ go, but be particular in other areas so you recoup lost money or reclassify the cleaning fee.
It would be unfair that you eat the cost. If you leave out the ‘pet fee,’ you can avoid a costly lawsuit and only deal with a small claims case in a worst case scenario.
To your success!
- ESA are not considered pets
- if the ducting was free of pet dander at move in, charging for the duct cleaning due to the ESA is a legitimate cost of the ESA and is allowed to be passed on to the renter.
- Consider using a pet screening service such as www.PetScreening.com (no affiliation), it can discourage some unscrupulous tenants with ESAs.
My view is HUD should change their current regulations regarding ESA to reduce the abuse. Until HUD makes changes, there will be unscrupulous tenants taking advantage of the regulations. Note, some states have instituted repercussions for claiming an ESA without legitimate reason but they have no easy means of enforcement.
The problem is your contract is worded to state that you will collect a $250 fee to offset cleaning costs for the "pet."
Legally speaking emotional support animals are a medical device, not a pet. Since they do not have a pet, you cannot charge this pet fee.
However, the tenants still have an obligation to return the unit to the condition it was in when they rented it, minus wear and tear. This includes damage from the emotional support animal. What you can do, is bring the unit to your normal standards of cleanliness. Perform whatever cleaning you would have spent that $250 on, and keep receipts. Then you deduct those charges from the deposit. Make sure you do not ever reference the animal. Don't tell them you did an extra deep clean because they had a pet. Just tell them cleaning was necessary, here is the receipt. Don't say the pet scratched the door. Just have it fixed and say there were scratches.
Thank you all for the excellent advise. Returning the pet deposit in full and taking any repair costs out of original security deposit and not referencing anything regarding "pet" is an excellent idea. I do agree, this is a bit of a gray area and good lesson learned on my end as landlord moving forward when signing lease with tenants that have pets.
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