Given that an estimated 35% of U.S. households are renters, and a further 67% of households own at least one pet, chances are pretty good that you’re renting with pets, and also that you’re concerned about the associated fees and costs.
Or, if you are planning to rent a house or apartment at some point and to bring your pets with you, then you should know that there are likely some restrictions regarding having pets in rental units. Most rentals have pet policies, and it’s important for you as a renter to understand and abide by them.
We often hear renters with pets ask “do I get my pet deposit back?” The answer is both “yes” and “it’s complicated”. The best way to ensure that you get your pet deposit back is to understand what constitutes pet damage according to your lease agreement, and to both prevent property damage from occurring in the first place, and to repair any damage caused by your pets prior to the move-out inspection of your rental unit.
But there are some important nuances to understand about what’s involved in getting your pet deposit back from your landlord upon move-out, as well as how much of your pet deposit is likely to be returned to you. So let’s dig a little deeper to understand just what it takes to get your pet deposit returned to you.
What are pet deposits?
A pet deposit is a form of security deposit required by some landlords before they allow tenants to move in or when you get a pet. It’s typically paid at the time of signing the lease or rental agreement and can be usually refunded if the tenant abides by all of the pet policies set forth in their rental agreement.
Some landlords may require a pet deposit even if there are no pets living in the home, usually on the off-chance that a tenant may eventually get a pet, or have enough pet visitors during their lease to justify it.
If you don’t have a pet and don’t plan to get one, take note of any pet-related clauses in your lease agreement to make sure that you aren’t being charged any type of pet rent, pet deposit, or other pet fee unnecessarily.
What is the purpose of a pet deposit?
If you already have pets at home, you know how destructive they can be. Cats and dogs are always looking for new places to play and things to chew on or scratch. Fish tanks can leak and cause water damage. It can be very challenging to keep track of all the damages caused by pets.
This is why many rental units have weight restrictions for dogs – because larger dogs tend to be more destructive of property than smaller ones, and therefore more costly when it comes time to make repairs.
Responsible pet owners will do their best to mitigate or prevent pet-related damage to the property they’re renting. However, some pet owners don’t take very good care of either their pets or the property they’re renting. It is because of these renters that landlords often require an additional deposit, known as a pet damage deposit, to help pay for repairs or cleaning fees associated with anything that the pet had damaged or destroyed when they and their owner move out.
This is in contrast to one-time payments like pet fees, which are usually levied for specific damages caused by pets, or pet rent, which is an ongoing monthly fee. Relatedly, pet rent covers damages in much the same way that a pet deposit does, though it is a much less popular option with renters.
How much is an average pet deposit?
A 2004 study from PetFinder found that the average pet deposit was between 40 and 85 percent of the cost of monthly rent. This cost is in addition to the regular security deposit that may be required.
This means if your rent is $2,000 a month, then your pet damage deposit would cost you anywhere from $800 (40 percent of $2,000) to $1,700 (85 percent of $2,000) at the time that you sign your lease.
What is a reasonable pet deposit?
A reasonable pet deposit is going to be subjective and based on the earnings of the tenant, how many pets they’re bringing to live with them in a rental, what type of pets they have, and how their landlord calculates the cost of their pet deposit. At the low end of the range of average pet deposit fees, renters should expect to pay about 40% of their monthly rent in a single, refundable pet deposit.
According to CreditKarma, the average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment in 2022 was $1,169, up a whopping 23% from 2021. At that rate, a pet deposit of 40% would set you back about $468. At the higher end of the range of average pet deposit fees, you’d pay a staggering $935 for a pet deposit for that same 1 bedroom apartment. Doubtless most renters would feel that a pet deposit closer to 40% is more reasonable.
However, given the high cost of turning over an apartment and the potential financial loss from vacancy that many landlords face, it stands to reason that you might be able to negotiate a lower pet deposit by offering to sign a longer lease. If you really like where you live and don’t plan to move for at least a couple of years, check with your landlord to see if they’re open to the idea.
Do you get a pet deposit back?
Yes, you do get your pet deposit back if certain criteria are met. Pet deposits are refundable, but in order to receive a full refund upon moving out of your rental property, you will need to adhere to the guidelines set forth in your rental agreement concerning pets and property damage.
A good strategy to ensure that your landlord is being fair about whether or not to refund your pet deposit is to take thorough before and after photos of your rental unit. This way if your landlord claims that you caused damage that was actually present when you moved in, you have documented evidence with which to disprove that claim.
If you rent with pets and are denied a refund for your pet deposit, ask your landlord for an itemized list of damages so that you can assess just how much you owe. If there are charges that seem unreasonable or made-up, ask your landlord about them. If your landlord won’t discuss the details of your pet deposit refund, or negotiate with you the repair & replacement costs that are the cause of your refund being denied, you may want to consider contacting a lawyer that specializes in landlord/tenant disputes.
What is considered pet-related damage?
Pet-related damage includes any kind of property damage caused by pets beyond normal wear and tear, such as chewing or scratching up carpets, scratching walls, or digging holes in the yard. A fish tank that leaks water all over the floor is another example. One of the most common types of pet damage seen in rental properties is pet urine stains on carpet.
That said, the line between “normal wear and tear” and pet-related damages is somewhat subjective, and not all landlords will agree on what falls into either category. Therefore it’s important to ask your landlord to clarify, in writing, what the pet deposit covers or not at the time of signing your lease.
Prevent property damage from your pet while you live in a rental property
A lot of people don’t realize how much their pets can cost them. If you have a dog or cat, there are many things they can cause damage to around a rental property. From chewing through electrical wires to scratching holes in walls, our furry friends can be costly if their behavior is left unchecked.
So the first thing to do to make sure that you’re able to get your pet deposit back when you move out, is to try to prevent as much pet damage from occurring as is possible during your stay in a rental property.
Pet damage is most often caused when pets chew or scratch things, or dig holes in the yard. The best ways to prevent pet damage are to:
- Ensure that your pets are trained properly, including potty training
- Clean up after dogs when you take them outside to go potty, and make sure that kitty litter boxes aren’t able to leak or have their contents spilled onto the floor – keep litter boxes off of carpet, if possible
- Monitor how your pets behave when outside on rental property grounds, and train them when they start to dig up or otherwise destroy the yard or other outside property
- Provide cats with plenty of things to scratch that aren’t part of the rental property itself, like scratching posts and other cat scratchers
- Make sure that fish tanks and aquariums don’t leak, and be sure to place them where they aren’t likely to get knocked over and spilled
Fix pet-related damage before you move out of a rental property
Another way to make sure that you get as much of your pet deposit back as possible is to fix and/or repair any pet damage that occurred before you move out.
If you want to repair pet damage, then you should first try to find out what caused the damage – did your cat like to regularly scratch a particular spot of carpet? Did your dog just love to dig up the same spot in the yard? You will need to clean up any messes and remove all traces of the pet damage incident. Then, you will need to replace any damaged items that are part of the rental unit.
Pet damage can be also fixed by having a professional clean up the mess. If you can’t or don’t want to spend the time and effort on cleaning up the mess yourself, then hire a professional cleaner who specializes in cleaning up after pets. Some carpet cleaning companies, for example, can work wonders with removing pet stains and odors from carpet, drapes, and furniture. And some landscaping companies can fill in holes in the yard for a reasonable price.
Renters insurance may cover some of the pet damage – be sure to check your policy for details on what it does and doesn’t cover.
How to get your pet deposit back if you no longer have a pet
If you no longer have a pet, you should be able to get your pet deposit back without too much hassle. However, some landlords may require you to provide proof that you no longer have a pet. This could include providing documentation showing that your current pet has been adopted, is deceased, or showing that you’ve moved into another home without bringing your pet along.
What can I do if a landlord hasn’t returned my pet deposit?
If you’ve moved out and haven’t received your pet deposit back from your landlord soon after, contact them immediately and follow up with a request in writing with a forwarding address. Landlords usually return deposits within 30 days, but they may need up to 60 days to process paperwork. Make sure you keep all documents related to the transaction.
If after 30-60 days you still haven’t received your pet deposit back from your landlord, contact your local housing authority for help. They may be able to assist you in getting your money back.
When all else fails, try to negotiate with your landlord
If you’ve done everything right and your landlord is still determined to keep your pet deposit after you move out, you may need to try to negotiate a settlement with them. If you want to negotiate with your landlord, you should be prepared for a long conversation. You should be prepared to provide evidence for any claims you make, and you should fully understand the terms of your lease agreement. Ask your landlord for an itemized list of damages so that you can review what kinds of charges you’ve been stuck with.
If your negotiations don’t result in a full refund of your deposit, you may need to seek legal advice from a lawyer who specializes in landlord/tenant law. Check our Rental Resources page for some government sites that include directories of legal experts.