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Can a Landlord be Held Liable for Injuries Caused by a Tenant’s Dog?

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Can a Landlord be Held Liable for Injuries Caused by a Tenant’s Dog?

The answer to this question is yes, but only under particular circumstances. The Illinois Animal Control Act, commonly referred to as the Illinois Dog Bite Statute, controls when a person is liable for injuries caused by a dog or other animal. The central portion of the Act states:

If a dog or other animal, without provocation, attacks, attempts to attack, or injures any person who is peaceably conducting himself or herself in any place where he or she may lawfully be, the owner of such dog or other animal is liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the injury proximately caused thereby.
510 ILCS 5/2.16 (West 2015), emphasis added.

The Illinois Dog Bite Act further defines “owner” as “any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by him or her.” 510 ILCS 5/2.16 (West 2015). Therefore, the Act defines owner broadly enough to encompass those who care for, exert control over, or house a dog.

A recent Illinois case provides a great illustration of when a landlord can be held liable for damages caused by a tenant’s dog. In Whittin v. Luck, tenants rented a house where the lease specifically stated that no pets were allowed in the house. 2014 IL App (5th) 120513 (2014). Despite the provision in the lease, the landlord allowed the tenants to keep their dog in a barn on the property that was not covered by the lease. The landlord would often go to the barn for tools and other items he stored there, but never fed or interacted with the dog. One day, the dog ran onto a road and was hit by a motorcyclist who died in the accident. The motorcyclist’s estate brought suit against the landlord.

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The court ruled that the owner was not responsible for the actions of the dog, finding that the landlord did not exert enough control over the dog to warrant a finding that he “harbored” the dog. However, the court was split in this finding, with the dissent forcefully arguing for liability. The dissent argued that the landlord “harbored” the dog because he decided where the dog could live and was responsible for maintaining the barn.

In short, a landlord can be liable for a tenant’s dog when he exerts control over the dog by feeding the dog, caring for the dog, or by establishing particular rules about the dog’s presence on his property. However, the courts generally require that such control be substantial before finding a landlord liable.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries from a dog, contact the Kryder Law Group for your free consultation.

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