Although a dog’s owner is typically fully liable if his or her dog bites someone, the situation is more complex when the owner is a tenant of someone else’s property. Even though the landlord is not the dog’s owner, New Jersey courts generally agree that “a landlord owes a duty to his tenant or his tenant’s invitees, to prevent injury from his tenant’s dog if he is aware of the presence of the animal on the property and is also aware of its vicious propensities”. Being aware of the dog’s “vicious propensities” is the key factor in determining a landlord’s liability. For instance, in the 2009 case of Donaldson v. Lipinksi, a court held that even though landlords have a “duty to make reasonable inspections for the safety of the common areas”, they are not required by law to “ascertain whether a particular tenant’s pet is abnormally vicious”. Thus, unless a landlord is clearly made aware of a dog’s viciousness through complaints or previous incidents, liability should fall completely on the dog’s owner.
Landlord Liability When the Dog’s Owner is Also an Employee
However, in rare circumstances, landlord liability is determined differently if the dog’s owner was an employee of the landlord, and the bite occurred while the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment. An example would be if a tenant knocked on a supervisor’s door to request repairs to her apartment. When the superintendent opened the door, his dog ran out and bit the tenant. Although the dog technically belongs to the superintendent, the court may rule that the landlord is vicariously liable for the attack. The reasoning is that at the time of the attack, the superintendent was performing a job- related task, which was responding to a tenant’s complaint. However, the court will recognize that the superintendent ultimately allowed the dog to escape, and should generally assume greater liability.
Renting to a Dog Owner isn’t Enough for Landlord Liability Should They Bite
The above-mentioned case is rare, and as a general rule, landlords are not liable for dog bites unless they specifically knew that the dog was vicious. Thus, the mere act of renting to a tenant with a dog is not enough to hold a landlord responsible. Where it becomes a problem is if the landlord has cared for or assumed control over the dog, or if the landlord had the power to have a vicious dog removed, but had failed to do so. Although no current law requires landlords to evict tenants with vicious dogs, it is wise to address this issue within a rental lease.
Landlords Should be Proactive to Avoid Liability for Dog Bites
Depending on the lease terms, it can be very difficult to remove tenants solely over the issue of a vicious dog. Many landlords have taken proactive measures, such as writing into the lease that the tenant may be given notice to leave should the dog cause problems such as excessive noise, destruction of property, and injuries to other people and their pets. Other proactive measures include obtaining landlord’s insurance with dog bite liability coverage, or requiring tenants to obtain renter’s insurance with this type of coverage.
Bitten by a Dog at Your NJ Apartment or Rental Unit?
If you have been bitten by a dog whose owner is a tenant of a rental property, it is imperative to determine all the responsible parties. Dog bite cases are complicated, and experienced legal representation is necessary if you are to receive maximum compensation from those liable for your injuries. Our knowledgeable dog bite lawyers will be happy to discuss your case during a free consultation. Should you choose to proceed, you will not be charged for any of our services unless you receive compensation. Call (732) 965-3350 to schedule your free consultation today!