Whether its due to an influx of assistive animals or because landlords are becoming more pet-friendly, anecdotally we have seen an increase in the number of animals in rentals. As a result, we are seeing an increase in incidents involving dog bites and attacks. In Arizona, the owner of a dog is strictly liable for injuries and damages caused by the dog; however, that doesn’t mean the property owner is liable as well. Whether a landlord is liable for damages caused by resident’s dog depends on whether the landlord knew that specific animal was vicious.
Generally, in Arizona the dog owner’s landlord is not strictly liable for dog bites occurring on the landlord’s property, because the landlord does not own the dog. But, the landlord can be liable for injuries and damages if the landlord has prior knowledge that a dog is dangerous and does not take steps to ensure that it is removed. To be liable for injuries or damages related to a dog attack on rental property, the landlord must have “actual knowledge” that the dog has “dangerous propensities” before the attack/ injury occurs.
Whenever I get a call from a client who advises me that a dog has attacked either a person or other animal at the property, I tell the client to immediately remove the dog and maybe the tenant from the rental property. Usually this requires serving the tenant with an immediate termination notice that describes the dog attack and states that the tenancy is terminated, and then filing the eviction. Sometimes tenants are willing to remove their dog in exchange for keeping their tenancy. This is an acceptable resolution, as long as the landlord can be sure that the dog has been removed from the property, and can provide documentary proof of such removal. In these cases, the landlord might enter into a contract with the tenant where the tenant agrees to immediately remove the dog; provide the landlord with proof that it has been removed and agree that the tenant will be evicted immediately if the dog is seen back on property. Or, the landlord might file the eviction action and then ask the tenant to stipulate to a judgment in the eviction and sign an agreement not to execute, agreeing that the dog will immediately be removed, providing proof that the dog has been removed, and agreeing that the writ of restitution will issue immediately if the dog is seen back on property.
If the tenant is simply unwilling to remove the dog, then I advise the landlord to follow through with the eviction action. Even if the landlord is unsure that it will prevail, this is the safest route to attempt to avoid liability later. Again, when a landlord knows that a dangerous dog – one that has attacked others or displayed dangerous propensities – is living on its property, then the landlord can be liable for any injuries and damages that it causes.
By Mark B. Zinman, Zona Law Group