Starting a Tenancy
Pet Fees or Deposits
Additional charges for tenants to have pets may take two arrangements:
The total security deposit, including any pet deposit, collected by a landlord at the beginning of the tenancy cannot exceed one month’s rent. A security deposit can only be requested at the beginning of a tenancy.
If the landlord specifies that the pet fee is “non-refundable”, the fee is not part of a security deposit. If there is any lack of clarity in the lease, money paid by a tenant to have a pet may be interpreted to be a refundable deposit. If the total of the pet deposit and security deposit exceeds one month’s rent, the amount in excess is immediately refundable to the tenant and may be deducted from rent by the tenant.
At the end of the tenancy, damages caused by the pet may be offset against the pet fee, but the landlord is not required to return any part of the pet fee, even if the damages are less than the amount of the fee. Damages in excess of the pet fee may be claimed against the security deposit, and against the tenant, if the damages exceed the amount of the security deposit.
Writers of legal documents like leases must be clear. If a document has two or more possible meanings, a reader may assume, and the law will enforce, any reasonable interpretation of the document by the reader. Using the word “deposit” rather than “fee” lends itself to an interpretation that the money is refundable, unless clearly stated otherwise. Landlords need to be clear in their documentation, as almost all leases are written by landlords. If there is ambiguity, a tenant may read a lease in a manner that is more favourable to the tenant than intended by the landlord.