Are you a Landlord With Dangerous Dogs?

By: Don Conrad

I believe the topic of dangerous dogs is one of the fastest growing safety concerns for a landlord at this time. Unlike the lead based paint issue which has state and now federal regulations to curb the potential dangers, the topic of dangerous dogs is still pretty much unregulated and open for discussion. Mix in the fact that the dangerous dog issue is often a personal and emotional one, and things can become very sensitive very quickly. (I have many interesting and eye-opening stories in my report on Dangerous Dogs available free on my website at ).

To cut right to the chase, certain cities in the country are labeling certain dogs as dangerous, and these cities have different trains of thought on how to handle the potential liability these dogs can create. Some of these cities now have ordinances along these lines which say: if you own one of these dogs, you need a $500,000 insurance policy, a 6-foot fence to contain the dog, and a kennel. They also say if the animal is out of the kennel, it needs to be muzzled.

Other cities have no such ordinance. But, just because the city doesn't have established ordinances doesn't mean these dogs are any less dangerous. It just means nothing extremely traumatic has occurred within the city, regarding these dogs that would result in such an ordinance being established.

Suppose you rented a house in a town with no ordinances for dangerous dogs, but your tenants have an aggressive dog that might be on a list if one was obtainable. Now let's suppose that dog does get out of the yard and attacks a neighborhood child, causing permanent injury to the child. What happens next? Well, for starters, you know there will be a lawsuit and there is a good chance you the landlord will be sued since almost any lawyer will decide you have more assets to attack than the dog's owner, who owns nothing but the dog.

If you were named in a lawsuit, your one recourse for protection, besides

having your rental in some kind of cooperation or other legal entity, is to see if your insurance company will fight the lawsuit for/with you. This seems to be the logical next step and one which most landlords would pursue.

This idea has some merit but let me warn you, nowadays, certain insurance companies are refusing or canceling homeowner's insurance if you have what is considered a dangerous dog living on the property. If you own the property and a tenant has a dog that bites someone, but that tenant doesn't have adequate insurance to cover the dog bite, you could be held responsible and your homeowner's insurance may not pay. That in and of itself should be enough to possibly make you ban these dogs from your property, but the issue brings up another question: What if the tenant has a dog they keep insured?

As far as I'm concerned, the answer is a complicated one. Some people say if a landlord's tenant is insured for the dog and something happens, then the landlord is legally off the hook. I don't agree. In a modern society where people can win multimillion-dollar settlements for hot coffee spilled on them, anything can happen in a lawsuit.

As a landlord I wouldn't want to chance it, and here's the main reason: When a victim receives a dog bite or worse, someone has to compensate the victim. I guarantee you that the owner of the dog, in this case your tenant, has probably zero in assets to compensate the victim. You, the landlord, however, are probably worth millions-at least in the jury's eyes-so you could very well be listed in that lawsuit. Landlords have assets. If you want to protect them, be careful about these dogs.

So how do you draw a line on what dogs you will consider dangerous? If you want to rent to dog owners and wish to exclude potentially dangerous dogs, try this: call the city or town your rental is and find out their dog list and corresponding regulations. Then call your insurance agent that insures the rental and get a list from them. (Careful: some agents represent many companies, so make sure you are actually getting the list from the company that insures the house.) Now, write up your own list using both the city and the insurance agent's information. Add any dog you feel should be on the list. Date and sign the list. Make a copy of this list and keep it handy for any time you rent your dwelling. Update it about once a year.

Doing things this way will help ensure that you don't illegally discriminate and will go a long way toward keeping your investment asset a little safer.

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