Pet Rent: When Is it Allowed in Massachusetts?

The Appeals Court issued an important decision this week clarifying when “pet rent” is allowed in Massachusetts. “Pet rent”, as I refer to it, is additional rent that a landlord charges a tenant for allowing a pet in a rental apartment.

The full decision, Flemming v. Greystar Management, is included before. The decision concerns some other landlord-tenant topics that I won’t cover in this blog post.

What Can a Landlord Charge a Tenant?

Massachusetts landlord-tenant law has strict requirements about what a landlord can (and cannot) charge a tenant. Under the law, at or prior to the start of the tenancy, a landlord can require the following payments from a tenant:

  • First month’s rent
  • Last month’s rental
  • Security deposit
  • Purchase and installation cost for a key and lock

After the start of the tenancy, a landlord is prohibited from accepting (1) rent in advance in excess of the current month’s rent and (2)  a security deposit in excess of the amount allowed under the law.

Here, the issue of pet rent concerns the interplay between these two sets of requirements.

Pet Rent: When Is it Allowed?

In this case, the landlord required the tenant to pay additional rent if the tenant kept a dog in the apartment. The monthly rent was $1,024, and the lease required the tenant to pay an additional $125 each month that the tenant had a dog in the unit.

The tenant argued that pet rent violated the rent, as it was a form of a security deposit that the tenant was required to pay throughout the tenancy.

The Appeals Court disagreed, and noted the following:

The animal rent was not a deposit intended to secure performance to keep the apartment free from damage. Rather, it was additional rent, which [the tenant] agreed to pay, in exchange for the right to keep dogs in the apartment.

Practical Implications

As someone who has closely followed the many changes in Massachusetts landlord-tenant law, I was surprised by this decision. Most courts I have been before have taken the tenant’s position on this matter. This decision gives landlords a little more leeway in setting the terms of their tenancies.

There are two important points that I would offer caution about on this topic.

From my reading of this decision, a “pet security deposit” is still not permissible under the law. In other words, a landlord cannot demand an extra security deposit from a tenant solely on account of the tenant having a pet.

I recommend that landlords never take a security deposit but, if they do, the deposit can never exceed a single month of rent.

Landlords also need to be mindful that housing discrimination laws cover emotional support animals. If a tenant’s pet is an emotional support animal, a landlord should proceed with extreme caution in accepting pet rent, and strongly consider not requiring it at all.

If need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, contact me for a consultation.