Question: I would like to know if I can get my pet deposit back even though I am still living in my apartment. My dog died shortly after I moved in, and I am not getting another one. My landlord says the deposit cannot be refunded until I move out, which I don’t plan on doing for a few years.

Property manager Griswold replies:

I understand your concern and desire to have your pet deposit returned now that your dog died and you have no plans for a new one. However, I think that it is reasonable for the landlord to hold your pet deposit until you vacate the premises. First, your rental agreement most likely does not provide for a return of the pet deposit based on no longer having a pet, regardless of the cause. Next, as a property manager, I have seen extensive damage caused by pets that is not readily identified in a brief walkthrough of an apartment, especially one that is still occupied and filled with furnishings and personal possessions. Damage caused by pets often cannot be discovered until the furniture and floor coverings are removed or at least lifted, and that is not easy to do with furniture in place. Thus, your landlord is not being unreasonable in holding your pet deposit until he/she can be assured that there is no latent damage. My only suggestion is you could put your request in writing and acknowledge that you will not be getting a new pet. You should also offer unfettered access to your rental unit for a thorough inspection by the landlord or their agents. But I believe a prudent landlord would still choose to withhold the pet deposit until you vacate the premises. Of course, while the loss of your dog is traumatic and you have no desire for a new pet at this time, you may one day decide that another pet is desirable and then you will already have the pet deposit in place.

Question: I share an apartment with friends. In the past, the owners of the building have asked for only one person to be on the lease and the others to informally sublet. I came in as a subletter. The leaseholder moved recently and I spoke to the landlord about signing the lease. He said he would get it to me, but now, two months later, I still haven’t signed anything. From what I understand my roommates and I are essentially squatters without a lease. What are the ramifications? Also, recently the landlord has been making improvements to the building. Should I worry that my rent will increase? Should I ask for a lease to prevent the rent from increasing?

Landlords’ attorney McKinley replies:

Assuming you and your roommates are now paying the rent directly to the landlord, you are not squatters. You have, in effect, created an oral, month-to-month rental agreement between you and the landlord. This is sometimes referred to as a tenancy at will. A tenancy is a consensual arrangement for occupancy of the premises. Because the landlord is accepting your rent, it is implied that he has consented to your occupancy of the premises. An express, formal written rental agreement is not required to create a tenancy. Therefore, you have all the rights and responsibilities of a tenant under virtually all state tenant-landlord laws. As a tenant at will, the landlord could terminate your tenancy by giving you proper written notice of termination of tenancy. In addition, the landlord could change the terms of your tenancy, i.e., raise your rent upon proper written notice. It would probably benefit both you and your landlord to enter into a written rental contract. This would specify exactly what the rent is, any late fees, house rules, parking rules, and any other responsibilities or obligations of both parties. A fixed-term lease would specify the rent for the term of the lease, and would prevent rent increases during the term of the lease. However, be aware, that if your landlord chooses to offer you a lease, it may be at a higher rental rate than what you are currently paying.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and James McKinley, member of the Moffitt & Associates law firm, which represents landlords.

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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