California Landlords Listen Up: You May Be On the Hook for Your Tenant’s Dog

landlord liability for dog bite

It might not seem fair, but California landlords may be responsible for tenants’ dogs and that means they may be responsible for paying for expenses related to dog bite injuries. There are specific requirements to hold a landlord responsible in such cases, but if you’re a landlord do you really want to take that chance? Here’s what you need to know if you’re a California landlord and your tenants have dogs.

Renter’s Insurance is Critical

While most homeowners have homeowner’s insurance (often because their mortgage companies require it), only about 40% of renters have a renter’s insurance policy. This might be because they’re not aware of the benefits that come with having renter’s insurance or because they think they can’t afford it, but if your tenants have dogs, you must insist they get renter’s insurance.

A renter’s insurance policy will usually cover a renter if their dog bites someone in their rental home (or anywhere on the grounds of your rental property). It’s not very expensive to get and it will usually provide coverage for dog bite expenses up to $50,000 or $100,000, depending on how much insurance the renter purchases.

As the landlord, you can require all tenants to get renter’s insurance as part of their lease agreement. This is just good practice, even if your tenants don’t have dogs, but it’s especially vital if they do. Without rental insurance, the victim’s lawyer will certainly turn to you to attempt to get your homeowner’s insurance policy to cover their client’s expenses.

Criteria for Holding a Landlord Responsible for a Tenant’s Dog

To be considered responsible for a tenant’s dog, a landlord has to know that the tenant was keeping a dog on the property, know that the dog had a propensity for biting other people or animals, and could have taken action to prevent the dog from biting someone (including terminating the renter’s lease).

You also may not be protected just by saying you had no idea the dog was dangerous either. This is because if the dog is a certain breed (pit bull, doberman, chow chow, rottweiler, etc.), you can reasonably expect that dog to have a higher chance of biting someone than dogs of other breeds. If you know your tenant’s dog is one of these dangerous breeds and you don’t terminate their lease, you could be held liable.

Take Action Now to Protect Yourself

Not only should you begin requiring all your tenants to have renter’s insurance up to a specific amount, but you should also implement breed-specific policies in your rental agreement. You might want to ban all dangerous breeds or you can require your tenants to prove they have additional insurance coverage for their breed. This still may leave you open to lawsuits though, so a ban might be better.

Of course, you can take the drastic action of not allowing any dogs on your rental properties, but that might be difficult to enforce if you already have tenants with dogs. But, it might be advisable to make this a policy for any new renters you lease your property to just to make sure you’re not at risk of a lawsuit.

Conclusion

Dog bites can translate into very expensive medical and legal bills. Don’t leave yourself open to a potential liability claim by taking action to ensure your tenants all have renter’s insurance and by creating breed-specific policies that limit your exposure.

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