We’ve all heard the “one bite rule” as it relates to dog bites. Common wisdom says that every dog is allowed one bite without its owner being liable. After that, the owner has notice the dog is vicious, and will be liable if anyone else is hurt.
That’s generally true. In some states, such as Colorado, a dog is not allowed even one bite. The owner is liable, no matter what.
The rules about landlord liability (and property managers, although I won’t say it every time, below) is pretty much the same in all states, though.
If the landlord knows about a tenant’s dangerous animal, or has reason to know about it, and has the legal right to avoid the problem, then the landlord is liable if anyone is hurt by that animal while on the leased premises. Here are some of the things courts said a landlord could have done.
- Refused to lease to someone with a dog the landlord knew, or should have known, was dangerous;
- Refused to renew a lease for someone with a dog the landlord knew, or should have known, was dangerous;
- Enforced the landlord’s own “no pets” policy;
- Enforced the landlord’s leash, or containment, or other such pet policies;
- There could be other things. It all depends on the circumstances. Many states hold that if the landlord feeds the tenant’s dog periodically, then it “controls” the dog, and has the same liability as an owner.
Some states, including Alabama and Maryland, have held that a pit bull is inherently dangerous. Owners, and landlords, are presumed to know the supposed “vicious propensities” of the entire breed. If the dog bites someone, the owner is automatically liable. If the landlord knew the tenant had a pit bull, and allowed it, the landlord is automatically liable.
My advice: If you allow pets, make sure you have good rules, enforce your rules, and require your tenants to have insurance. Know your state’s rules about inherently dangerous breeds. Keep a written log of all animal complaints, so if someone claims you had notice of a vicious dog, you can refer to your log to refute it. And, take all complaints seriously! Landlords and property managers can be liable for attacks by their tenants’ dogs.