It’s not uncommon for landlords to hesitate to allow pet-owning tenants into their rental property. Aside from the damage that dogs can cause, they can also be a danger to the community. If, however, you’re renting your property to a tenant with a dog, it’s crucial to learn what to do in case their dog bites another tenant or a neighbor.
Is the landlord liable if the tenant’s dog bites another tenant?
Let’s say that your tenant has a dog, and that dog bit the tenant’s neighbor. In this situation, it can be tempting for the neighbor to hold the landlord liable for allowing the tenant to own a “dangerous” dog. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, it is rare for a landlord to be held liable for bites, scratches, etc. inflicted by the tenant’s dog.
In general, a landlord can incur liability if the landlord knows that keeping the dog is risky. For instance, if the landlord knows that the dog is aggressive, they can be to blame in case that the dog bites the neighbor or another tenant. Similarly, if the dog previously bit a neighbor or tenant, but the landlord did not remove the pet from the premises, they can be considered liable the second time around.
A landlord can also incur liability if they harbored the dog. When a landlord “harbors” a dog, they’re essentially the legal owner of the dog. So, when the dog bites someone, the landlord, who is considered the legal owner, is held liable due to their negligence.
What can landlords do?
The circumstances in which a landlord is liable for a dog bite are rare. However, if you aren’t careful, you could end up in court. Fortunately, you can protect yourself by doing the following:
- Conduct a tenant screening and pet screening. Meet your tenant’s pet in person to see how it interacts with other people and pets. A property management company can help you conduct a pet screening.
- If you know that a tenant’s pet poses a risk, ask your tenant to remove them from the property. Keep in mind that in some situations, you won’t be able to ask the tenant to remove the dog, nor evict the tenant.
- Tell your tenants to secure insurance. That way, in case their dog does bite, their policy will cover the medical bills.
Does the landlord even have the power to remove the dog?
Let’s say that your tenant signed a year-long lease and that they have a “dangerous” dog. In case the dog bites the tenant’s neighbor, you’ll have a hard time ordering your tenant to remove their pet. If, however, the tenant signed a month-to-month lease, you can give the tenant a termination notice so they’ll have to move out.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that this isn’t always the case. Whether or not you have the power to remove the dog depends on the provisions of the lease agreement. That’s why you should always hire a property management company with an in-house team of attorneys to draft a fool-proof contract for you.
In general, though, as long as the dog is dangerous and is a nuisance, chances are that the landlord can remove the dog and evict the tenant. While the eviction proceedings are well underway, post warning signs around the property. That way, you can steer clear from further incidents.
Can the landlord be held liable for dog bites outside the property?
The short answer is yes. The landlord can be considered responsible in case the dog bites someone outside the rental property — as long as they knew that the dog posed a risk.
For instance, if a dog escapes the rental property, runs to the neighbor’s yard, and bites the neighbor, the landlord could incur liability if they were aware that the dog was dangerous. This, however, depends on state and local laws, so always consult your counsel or property manager in case you find yourself in this situation.
Can the homeowners association be held liable?
Is your rental property in an area that’s controlled by a homeowners association? You and your tenant could be in the clear in case of pet-related accidents that occur in the community. It’s the homeowners association’s (HOA) duty to ensure that common areas (e.g. streets, clubhouses, playgrounds, etc.) are clean and safe. If your tenant’s dog bites someone in one of the common areas, the HOA will probably be the one to blame.
To illustrate, if your tenant’s dog escapes due to poor fencing by the HOA, and they end up biting a neighbor, the HOA could be held liable. This is because the poor fencing directly caused the dog’s escape. If the HOA’s covenants state that the association is responsible for fence maintenance, then the HOA incurs liability.
What should landlords do in case their tenant’s dog bites a neighbor?
Allowing your tenants to own pets can open up your tenant pool, but it can also cause certain problems. If you find out that your tenant’s dog bit another tenant or the neighbor, here’s what you need to do:
Assist the Victim
Assist the victim. If you’re a long-distance landlord, you can count on a property management company to help. Once the victim has sought medical attention, ask them to describe the attack in detail. What happened? Who saw it happen? Where did it happen?
Talk to the Tenant
Hear your tenant out. The victim may have a very different story from theirs. For instance, the victim may have sneaked into the rental property, provoking the dog and triggering the attack.
Talk to the Witnesses
You’ll naturally want to take your tenant’s side, but to get an unbiased opinion, you should speak to those who witnessed the attack. Ask them if they’ve ever felt like the dog was aggressive, or if they’ve seen the dog attempt to bite others. You should also ask them if they think the victim is only playing the victim.
What you do from here depends on a few factors. You should first consider what the victim wants. Do they want the pet removed from the property, or do they want to move on without taking legal action? You should also consider state and local laws, as well as your lease agreement. Your property manager can help you go through these.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that it’s your responsibility to protect the well-being of all of your tenants and their neighbors. If the dog is a danger to others, you need to remove it or evict the tenant.
Dealing with dog bites can be a challenge. If you aren’t confident that you can handle the situation yourself, hire the property managers at Luxury Property Care. As an all-around property management company, we offer legal assistance in case of accidents such as dog bites. Call us at (561) 944 – 2992 or complete our contact form to learn more.