There are a surprising number of cases involving dogs, though most cases are not as famous as the vicious attack that killed Diane Whipple in 2001. Ms. Whipple’s neighbors housed Canary Island mastiffs. Both criminal and civil cases were highly televised.
In Alameda county, in the case of Chee v. Amanda Goldt Property Management, a Jack Russel Terrier attacked a 71 year old woman and only the legal journals picked it up. In that case, the victim Ms. Chee sued her neighbor Kiymaz who owned the terrier. Unfortunately, the neighbor filed for bankruptcy. Left without a defendant, Ms. Chee’s attorney brought an action against the landlord and the property management company under the theory of vicarious liability.
The Court found that the landlord and the property management company were not liable because they did not have actual knowledge of the that particular dog’s dangerous characteristics. Knowledge of the existence of the dog and the breed characteristics were not enough.
Additionally, the Court was careful to distinguish that this was taking place in a residential setting where pets are common. The one case where a landlord has been found jointly and severally liable with the tenant was in a commercial property setting where the tenant kept a guard dog. In that case (Portillo v. Aissa), the landlord had recently renewed a lease with the tenant and should have inspected the premises at the time of the lease renewal.
The Chee Court reiterated that the general rule is that a residential landlord has no duty to check on the tenant and inspect for dangerous pets. However, it would not be advisable to deliberately avoid managing your rental properties as there are other conditions to the property that a landlord would be responsible to inspect for and address.
Do you have a dog? Talk to your insurance agent to see if your policy covers it.