If you own rental property, you may have decided to rent to dog owners to increase the size of your tenant pool--a smart business decision. However, the presence of dogs on your property increases your risk of litigation if a tenant's dog bites another individual and that person turns around and sues you. Here are some tips you can take to reduce your chances of winding up in court.
Why You Should Be Concerned About Dog Bite Litigation as a Landlord
As a landlord, you need to take the risk of being sued for a tenant's dog biting seriously. Why?
- If a tenant's dog bites someone and the tenant cannot pay for damages, the victim may come after you for payment.
- A lawsuit for a serious dog bite or fatality could cause you to lose your property and potentially your source of income.
- There are currently no national statutes regarding landlord responsibility in the instance described above; as a landlord, you may know that every state is different in how it handles cases like these, making it easier for plaintiffs to sue.
- As of 2012, according to the US Postal Service, more than 5,800 postal workers were victims of dog aggression. You probably have mail delivered to your property on a daily basis.
- You don't want your property to get a reputation for being dangerous to neighbors or prospective tenants.
What Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself and Your Tenants
The good news is there are steps you can take to protect yourself and the people who rent from you. Here are some ways you can control or eliminate dog aggression on your rental property:
- Install perimeter fencing and gates on your property. This can keep dogs from flipping out when a bicyclist or pedestrian passes. Install mailboxes, when possible, on the outside of the perimeter, so postal carriers don't have to enter the gate to deliver the mail.
- Screen your tenants' dogs along with them. When an applicant says their dog is friendly, instead of taking their word for it, ask for a Canine Good Citizen certification or other similar credential. This is a more reliable way of screening out aggressive dogs than breed-specific discrimination.
- In multi-unit properties, do not allow off-leash dogs in any common areas. Once a dog cross through its front door, it must be on a leash, period. Don't make exceptions for little dogs, as these breeds can bite too.
- Don't allow tenants to potty their dogs on your property. Dogs use urination and defecation to mark their territory, and this can make them more defensive of your yard.
- Require all owners to confine their dogs inside in their absence. They should not be left loose on balconies or tied in the yard, which can also make dogs more territorial and aggressive.
- Any aggressive dogs already on the property should be given appropriate restraints by their owners, such as basket muzzles that allow panting and drinking but not biting. Muzzles don't have to be used just for aggression either; they're great to prevent chewing of your woodwork or furniture.
Finally, to find out more about the dog bite laws in your state, consider speaking with an attorney from a company like Scherline And Associates who represents victims in local dog bite cases. You'll find out what else you can do to protect yourself legally, such as taking out an umbrella insurance policy or further securing your property for tenants with dogs.