Featured News 2014 Can Landlords Be Held Liable for Tenants’ Dogs?

Can Landlords Be Held Liable for Tenants’ Dogs?

Many landlords are hesitant to allow dogs on the premises for a number of reasons, but one big reason is that they are nervous about being held responsible if a tenant's dog injures anyone. For many reasons, however, this fear is unfounded—in most cases. There are instances, however, when a landlord may have to pay financial damages to someone who has been injured by a tenant's dog. If a landlord is deemed responsible for a dog-inflicted injury, then their liability insurance might produce the financial compensation owed to the injured person. Usually speaking, there are only two types of instances when a landlord can be liable when a tenant's dog hurts someone:

  • The landlord was aware that a dog was a threat to safety, and had the ability to remove the dog
  • The landlord "harbored" (took care of) the dog

The Landlord Knew About the Dog's Dangerous Side and Did Nothing

In some states, if a landlord realized that a dog was unsafe, and he or she had the legal authority to tell the tenant to leave or remove the dog, but didn't take this action, then they could be on the hook if the tenant's dog hurts someone. Both knowledge and the ability to remove must be in place.

They Were Aware of the Danger

So what counts as a landlord knowing that a dog is dangerous? Usually, this means that the landlord has heard about or witnessed previous instances where the dog hurt someone or threatened them. Let's take some case examples. For instance, in Colorado, a landlord was held responsible for an injury because he had cared for the tenants dogs for two weeks before they started renting. In that time, the landlord's grandson was threatened by those dogs. After the tenants moved in, and the dogs later harmed a child, the landlord was held responsible. However, in another case, a New York court decided that a landlord was not liable for a dog injury just because the landlord knew the tenants kept the dog on a chain and the dog barked at passersby.

The bottom line: it is not safe for others or for a landlord to turn a blind eye when a tenant's dog has a clear history of threatening behavior.

They Could Do Something About It

However, just because a landlord knew about the potential for danger, they cannot automatically be held responsible. They also have to have been in the position do to something about the dangerous dog. Let's say that a landlord buys a property where a tenant already lives. This tenant already has a one-year lease, and they own a threatening dog. In this circumstance, the new landlord may not have the authority to remove the dog. But if we took this same scenario and said that the tenant's lease was a month-to-month rental agreement, then the landlord has the authority to tell the tenant to get rid of the dog or leave in 30 days. If the landlord does not do this and the dog inflicts injury, then the landlord could be considered liable.

But even if a landlord is unable to evict a tenant with a threatening dog, they still have the ability to put up a fence, request that the tenant keep the dog indoors, or put up signs warning passersby about the dog, for example. These measures can keep others safe from the dog, and also keep the landlord safe from a lawsuit.

Can a landlord be faulted for dog injuries off the property? Yes, in some cases. Depending on the state, they could be held liable for not doing something about a dangerous dog that ends up hurting someone outside the property. Also, if a dog gets loose and injures someone because the landlord failed to perform repairs on the property, for instance, then they could be held liable. This will not always be the case, however, as there are states where a court will not hold a landlord liable for a dog bite or other injury that occurs off-site. As with just about any other facet of real estate law, your unique situation will be subject to state and county laws, which can vary a good deal from one another.

The Landlord Harbored the Dog

The only other way a landlord can be sued for a dog injury is if the landlord has some level of responsibility for taking care the dog, in which case they could be legally viewed as a dog owner, or keeper. So if a landlord does not feed or care for a dog in some way, they probably cannot be held liable under this standard. For example, one Illinois landlord had a property manager oversee an apartment complex. That manager permitted a fence to be put up around the yard that everyone shared, and further allowed a tenant to keep a dog in that yard. The dog later jumped the fence and bit a boy, who required plastic surgery to save his nose. The landlord was not held responsible for this instance, as he was not considered to have kept or cared for the dog.

The risks of having a pet on the property is just one of many reasons to be aware of local laws before you sign off on a lease or rental agreement, either as a landlord or a tenant. If you want to know more about landlord liability and tenant's rights, you can find the answers you need when you contact a local real estate attorney from our directory today!

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