Are You Liable for Tenants’ Pets? Maybe

By Henry Hall

If you’re trying to keep your rental occupied, it’s pretty difficult to exclude renting to tenants with pets. Some industry studies show that landlords who exclude pets suffer vacancy rates as much as 4% higher than those who don’t.

But having a pet-friendly rental can pose liability problems.

If one of your tenants has a dog that bites another tenant, you might end up with a law suit on your hands and possibly covering the damages for any injury to victims. In fact, dog bite incidents are so frequent they’ve almost become a legal specialty. While a dog’s owner is initially liable for the actions of his pet, the landlord and property manager may be on the hook if:

  • it is reasonable to assume that the property owner or property manager should have known that a tenant’s pet was vicious and did nothing about it, or
  • the property owner or property manager should have foreseen a problem and didn’t take care of it, such as by failing to maintain a fence that enclosed an animal.

Another factor comes into play as well: Who has deeper pockets? If a tenant who owns a vicious dog is of modest means and doesn’t carry sufficient renters insurance, lawyers will come after the property owner and property management company. At best, the owner and property manager will go to court and possibly be exonerated. At worst, they’ll be hit with a judgment. In either case, time and money will be spent on mounting a defense.

Related: Five Landlord Liabilities That Might Surprise You

Make sure you have adequate liability insurance if you rent to tenants with pets. And speak with a lawyer to get advice on how to protect yourself and your tenants.