Nonrefundable fee charged at END of tenancy?

desperaterenterMay 4, 2009

When I went in to pay my rent on the first, I also handed the receptionist an envelope with my notice to move out (the lease stipulates it MUST be handed in ON the first). She then told me I had to fill out a form, which basically was just an "I, __________, do hereby give thirty days' notice . . ." plus space for a forwarding address, which I don't have yet.

So she tore that sheet off for the office, but the rest of the packet was for me; it's what they expect when people move out, plus a list of charges for noncompliance. Like, $25 if they have to clean your oven and stuff. I never have cleaning issues, since I leave the place spotless.

However, one of the first things was an "automatic flea spraying and deodorizing fee" applied to "any vacating resident who owned a pet". That was not mentioned when I moved in, and it's nowhere in my lease. Unlike all the other things, no specific amount is listed.

I've always been under the understanding that nonrefundable fees can only be charged upfront, with permission, not taken from your security deposit when you move out without you having even known it was coming. What kills me is that when I went for my "interview" before signing a lease, the manager told me there was a $300 pet fee. I asked if it was refundable, and he said no. I thanked him for his time and was going to leave. I don't mind cleaning or pet deposits, although $300 over and above security is a little steep, but I expect that if I move out and leave the place sparkling that those will be returned. So, seeing that I wasn't falling for it, the manager waived the fee.

But I was an exception; how can they get away with charging a $300 pet fee plus a nonrefundable pet cleaning fee? And it's a standard form, so it's not directed at me because they waived the $300 fee, either. This situation isn't even touched upon in my renters' rights books or the state statutes (which are as ambiguous as possible, because this isn't an area of law that ever gets complicated or anything). Is it even legal to automatically charge fees at the END of tenancy without any prior mention of that policy?

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I think you would need to consult a lawyer to find out if this practice is legal.

I've looked at places with similar policies, but it's always been stated upfront. One place told me that if I had pets, $50 of my security deposit would not be returned, and that money would be used to treat the apartment for fleas.

It's possible that the standard practice is that tenants are informed of the flea policy when the sign the lease and that for some reason they neglected to inform you, perhaps because they were thrown off stride when you questioned the $300 deposit. Doesn't make it right, but I'm not sure you can prove that they *didn't* inform you.

Do you know any other tenants with pets? Can you ask them if they were informed of this policy?

I do think you have the right to know how much this is going to cost--it is very odd that everything else has the cost listed, but this one thing doesn't.

But I'm afraid that you will need to consult a lawyer familiar with landlord/tenant law in your state to find out the legality of the situation.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 9:32AM
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Of course it would all depend on the state where you live.......Where I live landlords are not allowed to charge for cleaning or updates due to *normal where and tear*. The issue of pets though may be different but I can't see how this would be legal unless you were given this in writing.

Did you have to sign something extra outside of the lease regarding your pet(s)? I am wondering if, since the $300 fee was waived, that there was a separate 'pet contract' that tenants sign besides their lease, and since you did not pay the $300 you were not given the paperwork that goes to all pet owners. If the fee was waived you should have been given the paperwork for the $300 non-refundable pet deposit and it should have been amended to say $0 or 'no fee' or 'waived'. All the contingencies would/should have been on that contract. I am thinking that they goofed in not having you sign a 'no fee' pet contract that held more details of pet ownership. If that is the case I believe that you would not legally owe the flea cleaning charge since you were not made aware of it and signed nothing regarding it.

Kudos to you for doing your own research on the matter and I can understand how confusing those state statutes can be to read. I would contact a tenants rights group in your area who can help explain the state statutes and legal forms in layman's terms.

Also, have you personally discussed this with the LL yet? They may already be aware of their error of omission in not informing you ahead of time with the proper paperwork, and just decided to not say anything, thinking you will just go along with it. If you bring it up to them, they may know they have to back down on this one.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 10:44AM
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I thought that's what a pet deposit was for! I know our apartment complex cleans the carpets anytime someone moves out and repaints the walls, but that comes out of the security deposit so there isn't an extra fee. The only time I've heard of people paying extra fees is if they did a lot of damage. But like the others said, every state is different.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 9:23AM
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I live in PA. My mother and SD have several rentals. They absolutely cannot charge any fees after the tenants move out unless they are specifically listed in the lease. I don't know if it is the same where you live, but I would check into it. Depending on where you live, you may be able to file a complaint. It sounds like the LL is kind of shady if they were so ready to drop a fee to get you in there and now want to charge you after the fact.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 10:20AM
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Considering we had to pay $300/cat in our last apartment, and we paid $250/cat in this one (nonrefundable in both places), I would be highly annoyed and willing to fight it if anyone tried to charge me some mandatory fee on top of that upon moving out. If there is a nonrefundable pet fee, it should incorporate any mandatory cleaning/maintenance they require to turn the place over for the next tenant. I have no problem with charging for damages, but charging nonrefundable pet fees on top of additional pet fees is absurd, in my book.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2009 at 10:25PM
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They waived the $300 pet deposit when you moved in. Did you have pets?

If so, the pet deposit would have covered the "automatic flea spraying and deodorizing fee" along with any other pet damage.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 5:00PM
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Hey desperate,

Well, this got interesting, eh? From Elephant peeps to sneaky fees.

Just my humble two pennies worth:
Sounds to me like they are stepping outside the bounds of what the Sec Dep and Pet Dep are for. The critical word here is "Automatic". As in the "automatic flea spraying and deodorizing fee". They show, by their own wording, that they fully intend to deduct for a very specific item. It's not "if" they find fleas, or "if" there is pet odor. It's "Automatic", across the board. And in an instance like that, where it's an automatic deduction that they plan upon at exit for everyone, it would seem to me they certainly have to list it up front, with a dollar amount, and it be agreed upon in writing by both parties.

I'm not sure how your mgmt is confident in assigning additional "automatic" fees on their tenants that were not revealed in advance and agreed upon in writing. Personally I wouldn't try it and would fully expect backlash. It all goes back to that operative word: automatic.

As far as any pet cleanup, one can logically conclude that's what the separate pet deposit is for. So to those tenants who did pay a Pet Dep and then get this bonus pet cleaning fee thrown in, it seems fishy to me. The proper way to do it would be to make sure mgmt has enough up front to cover fleas, cleaning, deodorizing and then any unforeseen pet damage and any automatic deductions must be noted up front, with a fixed dollar amount. The applicant can either accept that package and move in or reject it and move on. As it stands, the Applicant-turned-tenant is not being offered that choice. It's basically a side bar to a contract and I just don't see how it can fly.

Honestly, as a LL, if I had an exiting tenant and tried to spring an 'automatic' deduction of any kind on them that I didn't reveal up front, didn't include in the lease and it wasn't agreed upon in writing I'd fully expect tenant backlash. Highly doubt it would stand up in my local court, so I wouldn't even try it.

(On a side note, think I mentioned how important forwarding address can be in your other thread. Lack of providing one can often be detrimental to tenants. It's often mentioned in various states' laws. Know you're doing your homework, so encourage you to make sure you're covered there, and if required give them something, even it it's your dad's as an interim.)

What to do? Tricky. Cover yourself. Put it all in writing to them. State you fully intend to leave your unit in sparkling condition. However, you had an agreed upon monthly rental rate, an agreed upon SD which you paid in advance and there was no mention of any additional "automatic" fees in your lease that would be required of you at move out. Note to them that you did not even learn of the "automatic" fees until you were given the move out packet. And therefore, because it was not part of your written contract, you do not feel bound or obliged to pay any standard deductions that were not included in the contract, that you were not given the opportunity to review and agree upon before your tenancy commenced.

You're clearly a sharp tenant that does your homework, perhaps displaying this to them will be enough to get them to back down. I don't see how they can attempt to slide it through under your Sec Dep, either, because they have shown by their own written word that it's something they universally and automatically charge at move out but fail to list in the lease terms.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2009 at 9:26AM
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