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Pennsylvania Dog Bite Law - When is a Landlord Liable for a Tenant's Dog?

Pennsylvania Dog Bite Law: Landlord Liability for a Dog Bite or Dog Attack on Rental Premises

Dog bite attacks can lead to severe injuries and in most instances of a severe dog bite/attack, the dog showed prior aggressiveness or may have previously attacked someone.  It is unusual for an otherwise ordinarily friendly dog to attack or bite another.  Pennsylvania law is clear that the dog owner can certainly be held liable for a dog attack, so long as the dog showed sufficient aggressiveness during the attack or showed prior aggressiveness.

Whether a landlord can be held liable in a situation where a tenant’s dog attacks or bites someone is not as simple.  The short answer is that yes, a landlord could be held liable.  However, when a landlord can be held liable requires more discussion.

Landlords - Out of Possession Versus In Possession

In Pennsylvania, a landlord out of possession can only be held liable for a dog attack of a tenant where 1) the landlord actually knew of the violent/aggressive tendencies of the dog and 2) has the right to control the rented premises.

Underwood et al. v. Wind is a 2008 Pennsylvania Superior Court case which discusses landlord liability for dog attacks.

In Underwood, a landlord rented an apartment to a relative, her niece. The niece/tenant owned two large dogs and moved into the apartment with her dogs without her aunt/landlord’s knowledge.  The aunt, however, was aware that her niece did own two dogs, but had asked that she get rid of them before moving into the apartment.  Also, the lease specifically forbade dogs.  The niece testified that she did not tell her aunt that she had moved in with the dogs.

The dogs escaped and attacked a young girl and two bystanders who tried to help.  At trial, the dog owner and landlord were found liable.  On appeal, the Superior Court reversed as to the liability of the landlord, reiterating that “out of possession” landlords can be held liable for a tenant’s dog attack if 1) the landlord knew of the dog’s violent/aggressive tendencies and 2) has the right to control the premises. 

The Legal Difference Between a Landlord Out of Possession and a Landlord in Possession

The Underwood Court also held that as to out of possession landlords, the plaintiff must prove actual knowledge.  Simply proving that the out of possession landlord should have known of the dangerous dog is legal error.

However, the Underwood Court did not address landlords who are in possession of the premises, such as landlords who occupy an office on the premises or who actually live on the premises.  In these situations, proving that the landlord should have known of the dangerous propensities may be enough to warrant landlord liability in these types of cases.

If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a dog bite or attack in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, contact our dog bite personal injury lawyers.  We have represented many dog bite victims against the owners, landlords and others.  877.944.8396

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