Many tenants have dogs, and many landlords make allowances for a tenant to keep one or more dogs. A well-drafted lease can help protect landlords from the costs of repairs for pet damage, but it may not be able to protect a landlord from a lawsuit if a tenant’s dog bites another person.
Landlord liability for dog bite
Dog bite law varies by state. Every state has some method by which an injured person can seek compensation if they are bitten by another person’s dog. No state has a statute that holds landlords specifically responsible for dog bite injuries – but if a tenant’s renter’s insurance isn’t sufficient to cover dog bite damages, many injured people will consider bringing the landlord into the lawsuit instead.
Many states have court cases on the books that hold landlords responsible for dog bite injuries. These cases are usually based on the common-law rule that landlords can be liable for injuries if (a) they know the activity that caused the injury took place on their property and consented to it, and (b) the landlord knew the activity carried an unreasonable risk of injury or that precautions to prevent injury wouldn’t be observed.
What does this mean in a dog bite case? It means that courts in many states have held landlords liable for a dog bite if (a) they knew the tenant had a dog and consented to the dog’s presence on the rental property, and (b) they knew the dog was “unreasonably dangerous” or that the tenant wasn’t likely to take steps to control or restrain the dog (such as by keeping the dog in a fenced-in yard or tying it up).
A landlord might also be held liable for failing to make a repair that could have prevented the injury. For example, suppose that a tenant’s dog runs out through the house’s broken screen door and bites a pedestrian who is walking past on the sidewalk. The landlord might be held liable for the injury, because it would not have happened if the screen door had been repaired.
To protect your business from a dog-bite related lawsuit, keep these tips in mind:
- Screen tenants and their pets. Screen tenants carefully, and make an effort to meet their dogs before the paperwork is signed.
- If your state or city allows, consider breed-specific restrictions. Although all dogs can bite, some breeds are more prone to biting than others. Some breeds are also more likely to be trained as fighting dogs than others. If your state or city allows, you may want to restrict tenants’ dog ownership to certain breeds, or prohibit keeping a dog that is used for fighting or that is registered with the state as a “dangerous dog.”
- Respond to all repair requests promptly. Make sure repairs are made quickly so that a failure to repair cannot become the basis for a lawsuit – of any kind.
Does renters insurance cover dog bites?
Yes, renters insurance does cover dog bites as long as it’s an approved dog. Many insurances will not cover Akitas, Pit Bulls, Great Danes, Rottweilers, and Huskies to name a few. If your dog bites another dog or person and is on the banned breeds list your insurance will not be covering any damages.
Seek professional counsel
Talk to your attorney for more information on dog bite claims and lease provisions that fit with your state’s specific laws.
Note: This article is not intended as legal advice and should not be understood as such. If you have a specific legal issue or question, please consult an attorney who is licensed to practice law in your area.