During this past week, I was asked by a landlord/client if he could assess certain fees against a tenant. He was looking to have language added to both his lease and pet addendum to allow him to impose such fees. While his underlying concerns were valid, in my view, he was attempting to try and get fees from a prospective tenant which he was not allowed to do under Massachusetts law. I then sought to address each of his concerns both by email and through a phone call in the following manner:
1. Can a landlord in Massachusetts charge a pet security deposit fee? The simple answer is no. Under G.L.c.186, section 15B, the statute explicitly set out what a landlord can charge a tenant at the outset of a tenancy and it does not include a pet security deposit fee. In fact, the only security deposit fee that can be charged by a landlord is in an amount equal to the first month's rent and that such a security deposit is attached to the rental of the leased unit only and nothing else.
To the extent that a pet causes damage to a dwelling unit, the security deposit set forth under this statute is designed to cover just such a contingency. In this case, my client was attempting to lease an apartment to a tenant who required an ESA (Emotional Support Assistance) dog. Had he attempted to try and impose a pet security deposit fee on this prospective tenant he would not only have been in violation of state law but also he would have been heading down the path of violating the American for Disabilities Act (ADA).
2. Can a landlord in Massachusetts charge a tenant for separate animal rent? Believe it or not, this question has been asked several times. There is nothing under G.L.186, section 15B or anywhere else in Massachusetts law, for that matter, that would otherwise permit a landlord to require a separate rental fee for possession of a tenant's animal. Again, the only fees permitted to be assessed by a landlord are those outlined under G.L.186, section 15B.
3. The imposition of illegal fees can lead to a violation of the Consumer Protection Act. As to paragraphs one and two above, by imposing illegal fees of any kind upon a tenant a landlord always has to be mindful that such conduct could automatically trigger a violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, c.93A, sections 2,9 which allows for the imposition of double or treble damages, costs, interest, and reasonable attorney's fees. The bottom line is simply this: If the fees you are charging a tenant to take occupancy of a leased unit do not fall within those fees outlined in G.L.c.186, section 15B(i)-(v) then do not assess them.
4. Is a landlord able to require a tenant to purchase renters insurance? The short answer is yes. A landlord in Massachusetts can require a renter to obtain renter's insurance. Having said this, a landlord can reasonably require a tenant to purchase such insurance with sufficient coverage. Now, in the case of allowing either an animal or service pet into the rental unit, it is also reasonable for a landlord to require a tenant not only to obtain insurance to cover that tenant's personal possessions in the event of a fire but also require a tenant to carry liability insurance. With any animal, particularly dogs, there is always a high risk of a dog bite occurring at the premises either to the tenants themselves, guests or other tenants.
Even service dogs as well trained as they are can also bite, particularly if they believe that their owner is in physical peril. My best advice is to inquire of your local insurance agent as to whether a basic renter's policy covers liability and, if so, how much. In the case of dogs, in particular, it may be that a separate policy or rider to the basic renter's policy is needed to sufficiently cover you in the event of a dog bite. In either case, be sure to make it clear to the agent as to the particular circumstances and to be reasonable in your application of the requirement to each of your tenants.
It's your property and you have a right to protect it. Make sure that you take the necessary steps to protect your property and financial interests and to do so at the outset of any landlord/tenant relationship. At the Katz Law Group, P.C. we have assisted many landlords in this area. I encourage you to call us at 508-480-8202 and let us help you in protecting your specific legal and property interests.