Summer 2018

Landlord’s Liability for Tenant’s Dogs: Control is Key

For the most part, it is relatively well known that dog owners are liable for injuries resulting from their own dog’s aggressive behavior. However, to what extent landlords are liable for their tenants’ dogs’ assaults on guests may not be considered.  Most states have clearly defined laws, and in Maryland, the element of control plays a key role in analyzing these types of cases.

The controlling case on this issue is Andrew Ward v. Stephen A. Hartley, et al., 168 Md. App. 209 (2006). Andrew Ward was bit by a dog owned by Maconio Alston while Ward was on a premises rented by Alston from Stephen A. Hartley and his wife. Ward brought negligence and strict liability claims against the Hartleys and the Alstons in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The Hartleys filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the Court. Ward filed a timely appeal.

In considering Ward’s appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals reviewed the lease between Stephen Hartley and the Alstons, the police report concerning the incident, discovery answers filed by Ward and Hartley, and excerpts from the depositions of Ward, the Alstons, and Stephen Hartley. The Court ultimately found in the landlord’s favor, however, it is important to note the three-part test the Court used to determine whether landlords should be liable for their tenants’ dogs’ attacks:

            1) The landlord controlled the dangerous or defective condition.

            2) The landlord had knowledge or should have had knowledge of the potential danger.

            3) The harm suffered was a foreseeable result of that condition.

Many landlords think that they can avoid this precarious situation by placing “no pet” clauses in their leases. However, these provisions do not actually absolve them from responsibility.  In most situations, each new provision that landlords place in the lease increases their own obligation to control that premises. A “no pet” clause opens the door to the landlord being able to terminate the lease upon discovery of the animal. By including this language, landlords allow themselves to be in a position to rectify the potentially dangerous condition.

That being said, even if a landlord knew of a dog’s improper existence on the property, he/she would still have to be made aware of the dog’s propensity for aggression. The landlord would need to have either actual or constructive notice that the dog had caused harm or had exhibited warning signs of vicious behavior. Lack of knowledge is the strongest premises liability defense in these cases, but this does not mean that a landlord should bury his head in the sand when he hears that Apt. 2B’s schnauzer almost attacked old Mrs. Grady.

Some advice for landlords moving forward: keep your premises reasonably safe and be aware of your tenant’s pets and their behavior.

For more information about this article, please contact Molly K. Evans at 410.230.3631.