Is Your Landlord Legally Responsible for a Tenant-Owned Dog Bite Attack in CaliforniaDog looking away from camera

Attention California landlords: the following are two California court cases you should be aware of when it comes to your tenants and their dogs:

In a residential landlord case with a tenant-owned dog that bites another, causing bodily injury, the California court noted that a landlord could still be liable for the tenant-owned dog: "A duty of care may not be imposed on a landlord without proof that he knew of the dog and its dangerous propensities. Because the harboring of pets is such an important part of our way of life and because the exclusive possession of rented premises normally is vested in the tenant, we believe that actual knowledge and not mere constructive knowledge is required. For this reason, we hold that a landlord is under no duty to inspect the premises to discover the existence of a tenant's dangerous animal; only when the landlord has actual knowledge of the animal, coupled with the right to have it removed from the premises, does a duty of care arise." (Uccello v. Laudenslayer (1975) 44 Cal. App.3d 504.)

If the landlord fails to control their property, they can also be held liable for California dog bites from the dog off their property. In Donchin v. Guerrero (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1832, a tenant's dogs attacked the plaintiff four blocks from where the dogs lived. The plaintiff sued the dog's owner and the owner's residential landlord. The court held that the landlord could be liable, explaining the law: "If the dog is taken on a leash by its owner, off the premises, prevention of an attack by the dog may be beyond the landlord's control. But if the dog escapes the landlord's property because of defects in that property, the landlord is liable for the off-site injuries." This could include a duty to ensure that appropriate fencing prevented dogs from roaming the neighborhood.