Renting To Tenants With Dogs: What Landlords Need To Know About Liability

We’ve all heard of horror stories about the dog owner who had to go to court because his/her dog bit a child at the park or snapped at the pizza delivery guy.

These cases can often elicit strong emotions. Dog lovers can empathize with the dog owner, whose otherwise gentle furry friend is maligned as a dangerous threat.

However, anyone who's seen an obviously untrained dog run wild as the irresponsible owner stands idly by can emphasize with the victim.

As a landlord, you may consider yourself the uninvolved bystander when a biting incident occurs. However, this is not always the case.

In this article, we’ll review your responsibilities as a landlord when it comes to renting to tenants with dogs. Our four legged friends can come with some unexpected liability issues, so read on.

Interested in learning more? Read Pet Ownership Laws & How They Can Bite You In The Assets.

renting to tenants with dogs: dog in teacupPower to Remove a Dangerous Dog

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that landlord liability is rare when it comes to incidents involving a tenant’s dog. You can read more about dog bite liability here. There are only two scenarios in which a landlord can be held accountable.

The first scenario is when a landlord has previous knowledge of a dangerous dog and also has the power to remove that dog. Both conditions should be met in order for the landlord to be held accountable. For instance, David is the new landlord of a building where the old owner, according to a one year lease agreement, allowed one tenant to own a dog. David knows of this dog’s history of biting both guest and other tenants. In this case, David wouldn’t be liable if a biting incident occurred because the dog’s owner had a prior agreement with the previous landlord.

Although David met the condition of knowing about the dangerous dog, he didn’t have the power to remove the dog. In this case, it’s still wise and responsible for David to manage the situation. He can attempt to remove the dog through eviction, request the dog be kept indoors or erect a fence to prevent further incidents.

Previous Knowledge of a Dangerous Dog

Knowledge of a dangerous dog isn’t as cut and dry as it seems. For instance, Ron who is the landlord of a property with a dog who barks and growls at everyone who passes by may have an intuition that the dog could be dangerous. The entire building and neighborhood may be irritated with this dog’s constant barking and mean demeanor. However, this doesn’t mean Ron has actual previous knowledge of the dog being a danger to others. The key word here is “actual knowledge.”

Actual knowledge means Ron knows of a past attack, such as a biting incident or threat made by the dog. Since determining what constitutes a threat can vary greatly depending on how individuals interpret a dog’s actions, it’s important to study past cases. Both Colorado and New York had cases where landlords were found liable for attacks because they ignored overwhelming evidence of potential danger by a dog. In the Colorado case, overwhelming evidence included a previous threat towards the landlord’s own grandchild.

what is a reverse mortgage dog wearing glassesHarboring a Dangerous Dog Can Lead to Liability

The second scenario in which a landlord can be held liable for an incident involving a tenant’s dog is if the landlord also harbored or carried out control over the dog beyond simply just renting out property to the dog’s owner. A good rule of thumb to remember here is that if a landlord in any way manages or cares for a dog, he/she will hold the same accountability as the dog’s owner.

Caring for the dog can include bathing, walking or feeding the dog. In a 2004 Wisconsin case, the courts ruled a landlord not liable for an attack involving his tenant’s dog. The dog was kept in an area adjacent to both the tenant’s and landlord’s dwellings. However, the landlord was not found to “harbor” the dog since he didn’t manage or otherwise care for the dog. He simply allowed the dog in the wooded area adjacent his residence.

Liability for Dog Attacks Off the Rental Property

Landlord liability for incidents that occur outside the landlord’s property can be as equally confusing and require a good asset protection lawyer. Based on past cases, landlords can be held liable for attacks that happen off property. Thus, if you know that a tenant’s dog poses a threat, don’t let it roam around freely and excuse it as the owner’s liability. A court might not agree and instead deem you as the landlord liable. Speak to the tenant about safeguarding his/her pet.

pit bull with kissesRental Property Liability Protection

As you can see, determining liability when it comes to incidents involving a tenant’s dog can be complicated. In general, it’s rare for courts to deem landlords liable. However, this doesn’t mean that landlords should take their chances. Rental property liability protection may not be the most exciting aspect of real estate investing, but it is a requirement.

While we can’t do a background check on every dog on your property, we can help you come up with a liability protection plan that can safeguard you against animal attack lawsuits and other often overlooked liabilities. Contact our experienced legal professionals today.

Last Updated: 
June 2, 2021

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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