Tenant’s Dog Bites, Is Landlord Responsible

Civil Code section 3342 (Dog bites; liability of owner; military or police work excluded; limitations) does not make any mention of the strict liability extending to property owners who are not the dogs’ owners.

The two best cases regarding landowners’ liability for tenants’ dog bites are Donchin v. Guerrero and Portillo v. Aisassa.

In Donchin, Plaintiff was attacked by two dogs owned by the defendant/ landlord’s tenant, but off the rented premises. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendant because it found that the defendant had made false exculpatory statements denying any knowledge of the dogs’ existence and denying that he had granted permission for their presence on the property could be used to infer guilty consciousness as to his knowledge of the dogs’ viciousness. The court further held that the fact that the attack occurred off defendant’s premises was not a sufficient basis for summary judgment in defendant’s favor. There was a triable issue whether defendant’s failure to properly exercise his control over the property was a cause of the victim’s injuries outside the property. It is the landlord’s control of the property from which the dog originated its attack, not his or her control over the property on which the attack occurred, that determines the landlord’s liability.  The case holds that inquiry into landlord’s duty to third parties with respect to tenant’s dog involves determination of landlord’s knowledge of dog’s vicious nature and landlord’s ability to prevent foreseeable harm, and in order for landlord to be held liable to a third party for injuries caused by tenant’s dog, the injuries must be ones which would not have occurred if landlord had taken actions which were within his power, which is founded on whatever rights he may have had to insist that tenant remove dogs from leased premises or to insure that property is so secure that dogs cannot escape to harm persons on or off property. Donchin v. Guerrero (1995), 34 Cal.App.4th 1832

In Portillo, the plaintiff-respondent was attacked and seriously injured by a dog.  The dog owner’s landlord was a co-defendant.  The court held that a landlord has a duty to exercise reasonable care in the inspection of his commercial property and to remove a dangerous condition, which includes a dog, from the premises, if he knew or in the exercise of reasonable care would have known the dog was dangerous and usually present on the premises. Portillo v. Aiassa (1994), 32 Cal.Rptr.2d 755.