Further Research

There are two excellent articles for attorneys: 87 A.L.R.4th 1004 (1992) [American Law Reports ALR4th Volume 87 (1992) Current through the September, 1998 Supplement Annotation LANDLORD’S LIABILITY TO THIRD PERSON FOR INJURY RESULTING FROM ATTACK ON LEASED PREMISES BY DANGEROUS OR VICIOUS ANIMAL KEPT BY TENANT by Danny R. Veilleux, J.D.; and 89 A.L.R.4th 374 (1992) American Law Reports ALR4th Volume 89 (1992) Current through the September, 1998 Supplement Annotation LANDLORD’S LIABILITY TO THIRD PERSON FOR INJURY RESULTING FROM ATTACK OFF LEASED PREMISES BY DANGEROUS OR VICIOUS ANIMAL KEPT BY TENANT by Danny R. Veilleux, J.D. 

Here is part of the above article as supplemented:

In addition to showing that defendant landlords had knowledge of previous attacks by their tenants’ dogs, injured parties may establish that the landlords knew about the dogs’ vicious tendencies by showing that the landlords observed the dogs threatening or lunging at others, or snapping, growling, or acting ferocious. To support the contention that the landlords had such knowledge, the injured parties may also prove that the landlords were aware that their tenants posted “Bad Dog” or similar warning signs, or that their tenants intended to use the dogs as guard dogs. In cases involving landlords who employ security personnel or property managers to supervise or maintain apartment complexes, trailer parks, housing on military bases, or similar multiple-dwelling residential areas, the victim of an animal attack may be able to show that the landlord or his or her agent received oral or written reports regarding the animal’s prior attacks or vicious behavior.

Proof that a landlord frequently visited the owner of an animal on the leased premises may also be presented to support the claim that the landlord must have known that the animal was vicious or dangerous. 

Although a court might take judicial notice of the fact that a particular breed of dog is dangerous, so that knowledge of the animal’s vicious propensities may be implied due to the type of dog involved, a number of courts have refused to do so. One court, for example, declared that dogs, like other domestic animals, were presumed to be harmless at common law, and ruled that the presumption must prevail regardless of the dog’s breed or size, absent a statute to the contrary, or a showing that the landlord had actual knowledge of the dog’s vicious or dangerous propensities. Courts have refused to imply that landlords had knowledge of a dog’s vicious tendencies, based on the particular breed involved, in cases to recover for attacks by a German shepherd, a Doberman pinscher, and a dog with pit bull ancestry. 

The opposing parties may establish whether landlords negligently allowed dogs to remain upon the leased property, or negligently failed to take sufficient precautions to prevent the injuries, by emphasizing a variety of facts. For example, they may show whether the landlords attempted to make the premises safe by warning or requiring their tenants to warn others of the danger, by requiring their tenants to chain, leash, or otherwise restrain the dog, by placing provisions in the lease regarding the confinement or control of the dog, or by providing a protective fence. 

To persuade the court to grant recovery, particularly when also trying to convince the court to adopt a new rule making recovery against a landlord more likely, victims of animal attacks may present a variety of public policy arguments in favor of imposing liability, emphasizing matters such as the obvious danger to the public caused by vicious animals, and the insurance coverage which the landlords may obtain. On the other hand, landlords may argue that the law should not discourage them from allowing tenants to keep pets, or guard dogs, since these activities have an important value to society which should not be unduly burdened.

Although evidence that a tenant’s dog attacked other individuals subsequent to the attack on the plaintiff is not relevant to establishing a landlord’s prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious nature, such evidence might be introduced to demonstrate a pet owner’s inability to objectively evaluate the animal’s dangerous propensities, and thereby support the argument that public policy requires the imposition of a duty of care upon someone other than the pet’s owner. 

To establish whether a landlord had a sufficient degree of control over the leased premises to prevent injuries to a third person caused by a tenant’s animal, the parties may introduce evidence showing the respective rights and duties of the landlord and tenant based upon their written or oral lease agreements, or course of conduct. The landlord may show that the lease gave the tenant exclusive possession and control of the premises, and may emphasize that the tenant, rather than the landlord, was responsible for maintaining the premises in a safe condition. Although the lease may give the landlord some control over the property during the term of the lease, such as the right to inspect, the landlord may nevertheless argue that such control did not create a duty to inspect for, or eliminate, an unsafe condition such as the presence of a vicious animal. 

A landlord may support a denial of recovery by indicating that the lease allowed, or did not expressly prohibit, the presence of an animal on the leased premises, to establish that the landlord had no right to terminate the tenancy or require the removal of the animal. Similarly, a landlord may show that notice requirements, established by the lease or statutory provisions, made it impossible to terminate the lease or remove the animal in time to prevent the injury. On the other hand, the injured third party might successfully argue that the landlord should have taken precautions to prevent animal attacks, by placing restrictions in the lease regarding the possession or control of animals.

The manner in which tenants or visitors use the premises may indicate whether particular portions are “common areas” over which the landlord impliedly exercises control. Thus, where tenants of a duplex considered the yard as a severable area with recognizable portions used for their separate purposes, one court determined that the evidence was not sufficient to establish such implied control.