Landlord Liability for Dog Bites

Overview

There are 4 grounds to hold a landlord liable for dog bites that were inflicted by dogs owned by tenants or squatters. Each ground requires proof that the landlord had sufficient opportunity to prevent the dog from being on the property or contain the dog in a safe area of the property:

  1. The landlord had actual knowledge that a vicious dog lived on his property. This is the “California rule.”
  2. The landlord had constructive knowledge that a vicious dog lived on his property. This is referred to as “premises liability.”
  3. The landlord had actual or constructive knowledge that a vicious dog lived on his property, and the landlord had possession and/or control of the property. This is the “harborer rule.”
  4. The landlord had actual or constructive knowledge of all of the following: a dog lived on his property, the dog was either vicious or of sufficient size to cause injuries if it got off the property, and the fences and gates of the property were insufficient to contain the dog.

There also are jurisdictions that do not hold landlords liable for any dog attacks. See Courts Reject Suing Landlords for Attacks by Dogs Kept by Indigent Tenants” for a great overview of the issues that make it so difficult to sue landlords. The article is by Merritt Clifton at Animals24-7.org.

How landlords avoid liability

Landlords can avoid liability by including suitable exculpatory provisions in leases. A comprehensive “dog clause” in a lease should —

  • Clearly prohibit the presence of dogs other than service dogs (and emotional support dogs in states that require accommodation for emotional support dogs).
  • Establish that the landlord did not know that the dog was vicious.
  • Prove that the dog owner (the tenant) did not tell the landlord about any defect like a broken gate or fence.
  • Require renter’s insurance with proper terms and adequate coverage amounts.
  • Establish reasonable guidelines for bringing new pets onto the premises.
  • Make the tenant liable for damage by his pets and guests.
  • Force the tenant to defend and indemnify against any lawsuits because of damage by his pets or his guests’ pets.
  • Enable the landlord to evict the tenant who has a dangerous animal of any kind.

Landlords can download a Residential Lease Dog Clause from the Dog Bite Law Store.

Further Information