Landlord Liability in Dog Bite Cases

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landlord liability

November 20, 2018

A tenant’s dog bites somebody–is the landlord responsible?

Dog bite law can hold landlords liable for dog bites when they occur on their property, under certain types of circumstances. In most all of these circumstances, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the landlord knew that the dangerous dog lived on their rental property and that the landlord could have done something about it, but failed to do something about it. A landlord who knows about a dangerous dog in their rental property but who negligently turns a blind eye to the danger on their property can be held responsible for failing to protect other people who may come into contact with that dangerous dog.

Whether the landlord in fact owes a duty to the tenants or the tenants’ guests on the property, or business invitees, or other guests to come on to the property with respect to a vicious dog residing at the property, is very fact intensive and depends on the specific facts presented in the case. It’s important to reach out to a dog bite personal injury lawyer right away if you believed that you were injured by a vicious dog.

Does Dog Breed Matter?

The short answer: no–the current state of the law is that the dog’s breed status is irrelevant.

Prior to 2014, it used to be relevant dogs such as pit bulls were held to be dangerous dogs under the law. Maryland has moved to a breed neutrality law, meaning that there is no breed of dog that is automatically considered dangerous. But this does not change the law that an owner must prove that they did not know their dog was violent. In other words, the rebuttable presumption applies.

Maintaining the Common Areas

Below are some other facts about dog bite law as it applies to landlord liability.

When a landlord is leasing portions of his property to different tenants and reserves under the landlord’s control, the common areas, passageways, and stairways, and other parts of the property for the common use of all the tenants, he must exercise ordinary care and maintain the common areas or retain portions in a reasonably safe condition.

In other words, he can’t let one tenant’s dangerous dog run loose or be present in the common areas or retained areas, thereby posing an unreasonable risk to the other tenants or their guests. The landlord would be responsible for any dog bites that occur due to his failure to maintain the common areas in a reasonably safe condition, i.e. free of dangerous dogs.

Landlord Liability Protection

The case that established this important principle under the law for landlord liability for dog bites, is Langley Park Apartments v Lund. The duty to keep a common area in a reasonably safe condition extends beyond the landlord and it extends to the tenant and also includes members of the tenant’s family and his guests and invitees, and others that are invited onto the property based on the right of the tenant. What this means is that a child on the land or the property at the invitation of another child of the tenant is entitled to the benefit of the landlord’s protection to keep the land or property free from dangerous dogs.

What about a situation where a landlord knows about a dangerous dog in his premises, but he fails to rectify the situation or to prevent the dangerous dog from being present on his rental property?

When a landlord has agreed to rectify dangerous condition, such as remove a dangerous dog from his leased premises, but he fails to do so promptly resulting in dog bite injuries, then the landlord can be liable for those injuries–just like they’d be liable for any other defective condition on their property. The case that supports this proposition is Sachs v Pleasant.

Similarly, if a landlord voluntarily undertakes to remove a dangerous dog from the premises or bar a dangerous dog belonging to a tenant from the premises but does so negligently, the landlord is still liable for the resulting injuries, even though he may not have been obligated in the first place to remove the dangerous dog from the premises. In other words, if the landlord isn’t diligent about barring the animal from the property or doesn’t act with reasonable promptness and somebody is injured by a dangerous dog bite, then the landlord could be liable for those injuries.

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