Landlord Liability for Dog Bites

Is a landlord liable when a tenant’s dog bites someone? The concern about landlord liability for injury to persons caused by a tenant’s dog often underlies a landlord’s decision whether to allow pets on the rental property. A landlord does have a valid concern about dog bite liability. The number of dog bite claims increases each year and, correspondingly, increased costs for victims’ medical care and awarded settlements.

Data has shown that more than half of dog bite injuries occur at the home. More than two-thirds of U.S. households have pets, with the majority of those pets being dogs. Many of these households are renter households. Pet-friendly rental properties are priority when these households move within the rental markets. A landlord must weigh the potential risks of a pets welcome rental policy against a potential extended vacancy of pets not allowed rental policy.

A dog bite victim’s medical costs are usually reimbursed through the dog owner’s homeowner insurance policy. When the dog owner is a renter and does not have adequate renter insurance coverage, the dog bite victim may choose to include the landlord as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit. A landlord is perceived as having deeper pockets, i.e., more assets and better insurance coverages than the typical tenant dog owner.

Generally, landlords are not automatically held liable for dog bites. However, landlords have a duty of care responsibility to take reasonable measures to ensure their tenants’ safety and security on the rental property. An incident of a dog bite injury requires investigation of the facts to determine whether the landlord performed to his duties and responsibilities for tenant safety.

Landlords can be held liable when their actions or their failure to act increases the risk for injury or damage from an aggressive or dangerous dog attack. A landlord could be held liable if the landlord had actual knowledge that the dog was dangerous or that the landlord should have known that the dog was a threat to others. As example, if the landlord was aware that the dog had a history of aggression (previously bitten or attacked someone) yet the landlord allowed the dog to remain on the rental property, knowing that the dog could endanger the safety of other tenants, visitors, or general public, the landlord could be held partially liable for future incidents of dog bit injuries or damage.

A landlord could be held liable if he failed to warn all tenants and visitors that there was a dangerous dog on the rental premises. If the landlord knew that the dog posed a threat to others but the landlord did not have legal authority to remove the dog from the rental premises, the landlord must take appropriate actions for warnings of danger, as an example, by posting Beware of Dog signs on the rental premises.

In situations where the landlord had actual knowledge that the dog was dangerous and posed a threat to others but the landlord did not exercise his authority to remove the dog from the rental premises, the landlord could be held liable for injury and damage caused by the dog. For landlords that offer pet friendly rentals, the tenant should be required to acknowledge in a signed pet addendum that if the dog displays vicious, aggressive behavior towards others that constitutes a threat, or becomes a nuisance, the tenant must remove the dog from the rental premises. If the tenant failed to remedy the situation, the tenant breached the lease and is subject to legal action as detailed in the lease terms and conditions. If the landlord’s failed to enforce his lease terms and conditions for landlord removal of the dangerous dog, the landlord is negligent and could be held liable for any injury and damages.



A landlord could also be held liable if the landlord assumes responsibility to care for the tenant’s dog in the same manner as if the dog belonged to the landlord. By the landlord’s actions, such as feeding the dog, walking the dog, etc., or exercising any control over the dog, the landlord inherits the same liability as the dog owner’s actual liability for the dog’s behavior.

If the landlord fails to maintain the rental premises to a safe condition, which allows the tenant’s dog to escape the rental unit or rental property, and the dog bites someone, a landlord could be held liable for negligence if the landlord knew or should have known about a property defect or item needing repair. The landlord’s failure to maintain the property incurred liability for the injury even if the injury did not take place on property owned by the landlord.

While there can be some amount of risk of liability lawsuits against landlords whose tenants are pet owners, particularly dog owners, there are some risk management measures that can mitigate landlord liability for dog bite incidents.

Due Diligence

A landlord should know the applicable laws regarding landlord liability for the location of the rental property. This includes knowing whether local ordinances prohibit certain breeds of dogs considered dangerous, vicious, and aggressive.

Landlord Liability Insurance

It is always a best practice to periodically review landlord insurance coverages particularly liability coverages. A landlord must maintain the proper amount of insurance coverage to protect his business. Understanding what is covered by insurance and what is not covered by insurance such as policy exclusions and limitations, is a business necessity to adequately protect business interests, defend against claims, and formulate rental policies and practices. The type of coverage and amounts of coverage should include liability coverage for dog bite injuries and other animal liability coverage. It is a good idea to review policy exclusions on dangerous dog breeds to make sure rental pet policies are set accordingly. If a landlord knowingly allows a tenant to have a dog on the rental property that is one of the dangerous dog breeds excluded by his insurance company, a landlord risks being financially responsible for injury and damage caused by the dog.

Tenant screening

A landlord can help protect his business by conducting adequate tenant screening through previous rental history screenings, landlord references, and applicant interviews. Prospective applicants should be advised of the rental policies regarding pets. Pet ownership and the type, breed, size, and weight of a pet can be requested on the application form. As applicable, a landlord may want to meet with the pet and review the pet’s health records, licensure, and/or registration before approving the application. A pet addendum attached to the lease agreement should detail the rules and regulations for having an approved pet on the rental premises.

Renters insurance

As applicable by statute, a landlord should always require as a condition for tenancy that the new tenant purchase renters insurance to protect the tenant’s personal property and provide liability protection for the tenant. It should be made clear that the landlord’s insurance coverages will not provide coverage for the tenant’s personal property from loss or damage or provide liability coverage for injury to others. When the tenant is also a dog owner, the renters insurance should include canine liability coverage. If the tenant’s dog causes property damage or injury to someone, the tenant must look to his renters insurance for coverage.

Lease agreement

The lease agreement is the governing document for landlord-tenant duties and responsibilities. When approved pets are allowed on the rental premises, rules and regulations regarding pet ownership and conduct should be detailed in a pet addendum. Additionally the pet agreement should detail what is considered a lease violation and what remedies will be taken to cure a violation.

As noted above, a lease agreement should specify the type, species of animal, size, and weight limit of a pet, as well as restrict the number of pets per tenant household. Landlords should always prohibit any animals that are excluded from liability coverage under the landlord’s insurance policy, for example, dog breeds that are considered dangerous and aggressive. Before completing new tenant orientation a landlord should review pet owner duties and responsibilities with the tenant and have the tenant acknowledge his understanding of the terms and conditions of the lease including his pet responsibilities.

Property Inspections and Maintenance

Regular property inspections for maintenance and repairs and safety inspections as required by state and local agencies provide a means to discover property damage caused by pets before the damage becomes a larger problem requiring repair or replacement. Additionally regular inspections could uncover a health hazard regarding pet ownership and care that should be addressed promptly for safety and health reasons of the tenant and neighboring tenants.

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