There has been so much discussion on BiggerPockets about whether or not you should allow pets in your rental property. This is also a topic that comes up frequently at our REIA group.
Some folks feel very strongly (like I once did) that they always end up damaging the property, so they just don’t allow them. Other landlords welcome pets and feel they get better tenants. What I found in my business, was that if the tenant found out you didn’t allow pets and they already had one, they just sneaked it in anyway. In the end, you missed the opportunity to collect pet deposits up front and additional monthly fees for the dog or cat. While these amounts of money rarely took care of all of the damage especially for a short term tenants, they often encouraged good tenants to stay longer if they could bring their pet.
Changes in the Law That Put Landlords at Great Risk
Landlords should all be familiar with the policies of their individual insurance companies regarding dogs and specifically those breeds that are considered to be dangerous. But, here is something that you had better read carefully.
On June 21st of 2012, the Supreme Court of Kentucky put landlords in this state at great risk if they allow pets in their rental property. We had a court case where the tenant owned a Rottweiler, and the dog was kept in an enclosed pen in the back yard. The dog escaped his enclosure and bit an 8 year old boy who was walking through the neighborhood. The mother of this child filed a lawsuit against the landlord and the owner of the dog. There was some dispute between the tenant and the landlord about whether or not the landlord had allowed the dog. However in this case, the landlord lived next to the rental house. The judge took note that regardless of whether or not he had allowed it in the lease; he certainly knew that the dog was on the premises. If you remember, this attack took place off the premises.
The Supreme Court ruled that since the property owner knew that the dog was on the property and did nothing to remove it from the property, the landlord became the owner of the dog under the dog-bite-statute. The court further ruled that if the attack had taken place on the property, the landlord would have been liable for the attack and all of the damages.
How Do You Define Who the Dog’s Owner is?
The Kentucky Supreme Court defined the owner of the dog as, “every person having a right of property in the dog and every person who keeps or harbors the dog, or has it in his care, or permits it to remain in or about the premises owned or occupied by him”.
In this particular case, the landlord was not held liable and was saved by the language used above to determine who the dog’s owner was; specifically the words “on or about” the premises.
However, the court did make a ruling that has a major impact on landlords in the state of Kentucky. The lesson to be learned here is that for legal purposes a landlord can now be the named the owner of a tenant’s dog (as well as the actual owner) and therefore can be held liable for injuries and damages under certain circumstances.
Protecting Yourself from Liability from Tenant Dogs
Here are three steps you should take now to help protect yourself:
- If you don’t want to ban dogs completely you should definitely bar the dogs that nave been named vicious breeds. Now we all know that not every one of these dogs is vicious. But if and when they do attack someone, they will do a whole lot more bodily damage than a poodle or cocker spaniel.
- Verify with your insurance company which dogs they classify as vicious and therefore are not covered under your homeowner’s policy. Don’t allow these dogs on your property.
- Visit your properties unannounced from time to time, and see if there are any pets that you do not expect to find. Be sure to document those visits in a file, just in case you end up in court one day.
I got a message from someone on BiggerPockets about a week ago about this very problem. This landlord had just been fined $10,000 for EACH pit bull that lived on the rental property by the Miami Dade County Animal Services. This gal said she had been notified by the neighbors that the dogs were running loose in the neighborhood and they were illegal in that county. This property owner thought she was doing the right thing by calling animal control to help her get rid of the illegal dogs. Apparently at least in this county, you can’t do that. Animal control stated to her that she was the owner of the property and was therefore responsible for the dogs, and issued the fine.
Every landlord should take some time this week and find out for themselves what the laws are in their local counties and states. I can’t imagine that there aren’t a lot more states out there with similar laws.
NOTE: Thanks to Henry “Hank” Schildknecht for informing our local real estate investors group of this complex law, and for breaking it down and making it so easy for the members in our group to understand it. Hank is an attorney and a member of KREIA here in Louisville.