Can A Landlord Be Liable for an Attack by a Tenant’s Dog?

Dog riding in a car.

In New York, dog owners are strictly liable for paying the medical costs of the victim when their animal bites or attacks another, if they knew the animal was dangerous or had vicious propensities. This may be shown if the animal had bitten or tried to bite another person previously or otherwise acted in an aggressive manner. This strict liability applies regardless of the level of care the owner took with respect to the animal. In addition, if it can be shown that the dog was indeed vicious and the owner either knew or should have known about the animal’s dangerous propensities, then the owner can be held strictly liable for other compensatory damages, including pain and suffering and even punitive damages where applicable.

What about landlords and property owners of residences where a dog resides? Can the landlord ever be held liable for dog bites? What about an attack that occurs off the owner’s property? A recent New York personal injury case addressed these questions.

In the case of Ferrara v. Ball, a man was across the street from his house in a neighbor’s driveway, talking to two gentlemen sitting in a car about one of the men possibly buying the plaintiff’s car. As the plaintiff gestured with his hand near the car, a dog in the back seat lurched forward and bit the plaintiff’s hand. The man sued the dog’s owner, who was in the car with the dog, but he also sued the landlord of the property where the man and dog had been living, even though the attack occurred miles away from that residence.

Under the facts of this case, which included the fact that the tenant had already been evicted by the landlord, the court granted the property owner’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed him from the case. Under a different set of circumstances, however, it is possible to hold a landlord liable for a dog bite from a tenant’s animal.

Under New York law, a landlord can be held strictly liable for a dog bite of a tenant’s animal when the following facts are present:

  • The landlord was on notice that a dog was being harbored on the premises;
  • The landlord knew or should have known of the animal’s dangerous propensities or viciousness; and
  • The landlord had sufficient control of the premises to be able to either confine or remove the dog.

If these facts are present, the landlord can even be held liable when the attack occurs outside of the owner’s property. However, this liability is likely limited to the situation where a dog escapes from the property and attacks someone, because the landlord’s failure to secure the premises properly allowed the dog to get loose. In this case, the dog was under the owner’s control at the time and had been removed from the premises by the owner himself, so it wouldn’t make sense to hold the landlord liable for the attack.