On the Fence with Landlording? A Rental with Bite!

by | BiggerPockets.com

When it comes to owning and managing a rental property, I don’t care to spend money for things that are not needed. So a few years ago, when a tenant of mine asked if I would pay to have a fence installed for the back yard, I asked, “Why?”

The tenant wanted to get a puppy and hoped that I would pay for it. I thought they were joking at first but, they were serious and wanted me to enclose the back yard. I mulled it over in my head for a few seconds and came to this conclusion…

Are they nuts? They want me to pay $750 to $1,000 for a new fence… So they can get a dog? No way!

Putting in a fence would have been a losing prospect for me. The neighbors would hate me when the tenant put the dog in the yard, only to have it bark all night long. I would not pay for a fence so they could keep a dog in the yard.

Several months later, I met an investor who had over 100 rental properties. I mentioned the request that my tenant had made and that I didn’t pay for a new fence. The investor suddenly became very interested and told me that it would have been the best money I ever spent.
I asked him how it would have been a good move to have granted the request.

He went on to tell me how he had faced a law suit early in his investing career. He had a rent house that did not have a fenced in yard. His tenants did not have a dog or any other animals but, they did have two kids.

One day one of his renters’ kids was in the back yard, where several neighborhood kids had gathered to play. Right about that time, a stray Pit Bull had wandered into the yard and attacked one of the young kids. Thankfully, the attack didn’t last long and the boy ended up only needing a few stitches.

Test Question: Who got sued?

It was not his tenants’ kid who was attacked and the dog did not belong to his tenant.

You guessed it… HE was sued! It was his property where the dog attacked a neighborhood kid and the parents sued him for $75,000. He told me that it was settled out of court for $20,000.

I asked what his insurance covered and he told me that they paid for all the legal fees and the $20,000 settlement. I remember saying to him, “Well that’s not all bad. At least you didn’t have to come out of your own pocket.” He shook his head and said, “The hell I didn’t!”

He said that his insurance rates went up about $2,000 for each of the next seven years. In the end, he figured he ended up paying over $14,000 because a stray Pit Bull had bitten someone on his property. His tenants broke their lease two months later and he had to pay the holding costs for the five months it took to replace them. That was the first and only time I had ever met a fellow investor that had actually been sued because of an animal attack and was able to tell me how expensive it was.

The next day I called the tenant that had asked me to install a fence. I told them to expect a fence to be installed within a week.
I determined that I was looking at the situation all wrong.

I had reasoned that I wouldn’t pay $750 to $1,000 to keep my tenants’ dog IN the yard.
Instead, I ended up spending about $800 to keep everyone else’s dog OUT!
The investor was right… It was the best money I have ever spent.

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  1. As unreasonable as the lawsuit sounds … I have to admit I don’t have a great deal of sympathy as a renter. I pay my rent early every month, and have seen it go up a few times through the housing bubble … reading that the people cashing my check have costs of doing business isn’t exactly a heart breaker.

    Sorry if that sounds overly negative … I’m just trying to offer a different perspective.

  2. Interesting story. I always considered myself a person that sees both sides of a situation but never thought to look at it like this.

    I guess theres two sides to every story….or in this case two sides to every fence.

  3. Interesting post – I guess it’s a matter of what’s the liability if I DON’T erect the fence, something we don’t always take into consideration. Forrest’s point is valid, but sometimes rents go up because cost of doing business goes up, and those two increases aren’t always in tandem.

  4. I never even thought of it that way!

    I wish our landlord was as accommodating as you.

    We are paying for a “Fully Furnished” place. About a month after we moved in the fridge, washing machine, dishwasher and garbage disposal all died and we are still paying full rent with the landlord refusing to fix anything.

    My fiances dad is an electrician and says the landlord has done alot of the electrical work himself and it isnt done by safety standards.

    Looking to move out ASAP!

  5. Chris Lengquist on

    Yes, but…

    ….what if the kids had been in the front yard and the dog attacked them there? I get where you are going with this. Just seems though you cannot possibly be protected for every single possibility.

    I never want to use it, but it’s why I carry large umbrellas on each prop.

  6. The first thing I’ve got to say is that litigation in America is nuts! In Canada, only the owner of the dog could be sued, and no one else. What if the children happened to be on the sidewalk at the time? Would the parents sue the city for not putting dog traps on the street?! And what about the renters – the people who were occupying the property where the children were playing? I think they’re much more responsible for the attack than the landlord.

    Although I am not a landlord myself – and am in fact a renter – I totally feel you don’t need to put up a fence. You mentioned that the other properties in the area don’t have fences, either; which is even less reason to put up a fence. Why not just put up a sign that reads, “No trespassers, including animals. Enter at your own risk.” I’m sure that would fully nullify any potential suit out there.

    Forrest mentioned that he hasn’t sympathy for the “people cashing his check.” Of course all types of businesses have costs associated with them; but a fence in a predominantly non-fenced neighborhood is not a requirement for safety or comfort. Fixing a leaky roof, fixing broken appliances and paying a mortgage are the “costs of business” for an owner of rental property.

    The couple should’ve found a place already with a fence if that’s what they wanted. If one chooses to rent a place that is in a high-traffic area; it’s not the landlord’s responsibility to re-route traffic.

    Also… maybe you should’ve asked your renters to pay for half the fence, or at least pay for it over time through an little raise in their rent. Or maybe sign a longer agreement, which would mean the fence would be put to good use?

  7. I will say this about fences in the context of the Tampa area market, while other non-fenced properties sit unrented for months at a time, properties with fences are snapped up almost instantaneously.
    For a simple $1,000 investment, a landlord can easily recoup that money in terms of rent that would have been lost with it sitting on the market.

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