Dog Bites and Your Landlord’s Liability in California

Under some circumstances, a California landlord can be held liable when a tenant’s dog bites someone. For example, if the landlord has received notice that a tenant had a vicious dog, or knows that a fence is not repaired which allows dogs get into the building. In such cases, the landlord would be liable to the bitten tenant.

A landlord can be held liable if a tenant’s dog bites a person and the landlord had actual knowledge of the dog’s viciousness prior to the attack. In one case, the court held that the landlord was liable when the tenant’s dog attacked a person four blocks away from where the dogs lived. In another case, the bitten person delivered beer to a commercial tenant. As he was leaving the store, he was attacked by a German shepherd owned by the tenant. While the jury found landlord did not know of the dog’s dangerous nature, he could have with a reasonable inspection. The landlord was found negligent.

On the other hand, courts have shown a reluctance to hold a landlord liable when it is shown that he or she had no knowledge of the animal’s nature. For example, a bank that purchased a property at foreclosure owed no duty to third party injured by the dogs on the property because the actual residents living at the property were contesting bank eviction proceedings and the bank lacked both actual knowledge of danger from dogs and an ability to control dogs. In another case, the bitten person did not establish that the landlord knew that her tenant owned a 100-pound German Shepard. The tenant’s dog attacked him and caused him injuries as he tried to escape over a fence.

Usually the landlord will have the deeper pockets in the event of a dog bite. That is, the landlord will usually have insurance in order to adequately compensate the person who was bit.

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Mary Catherine Wiederhold

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