California Dog Bite Law: Landlord Liability

Written By Bruce Thabit

Bruce Thabit is the owner of and has counseled numerous dog bite victims and their families. A recognized authority on dog bite law. A skilled, knowledgeable, experienced civil litigator since 1988. Call toll free number for free consult: Telephone: 1-844-444-0449.

Date September 28, 2016

California Dog Bite Law Landlord Liability

Proving up a case against under California dog bite law landlord liability rules for a tenant’s dog who bites another may be difficult. Such cases require knowledge of the law to plead the complaint and a factual investigation which requires skill and often formal discovery is the only means to determine whether the dog bite victim has a case. A consideration is weighing the value of the damages of a claim and the expense in attorney time and costs.

Time & Expense Considerations

The larger the money damages in a California dog bite law landlord liability case may merit the investment of attorney time and expenses whereas in a smaller value claim, the necessary investment may not warrant the pursuit of a meritorious case.  The factual investigation and discovery generally require skill and effort also on the part of the attorney in landlord cases.

Duty of Care of Landlord

In California dog bite law landlord liability lawsuits, a duty of care may not be imposed on a landlord without proof that he knew of the dog and its dangerous propensities. Duty of care pertains to theories of recovery for premise liability. Actual knowledge and not mere constructive knowledge is required. A landlord is under no duty to inspect the premises for the purpose of discovering the existence of a tenant’s dangerous animal; only when the landlord has actual knowledge of the animal, coupled with the right to have it removed from the premises, does a duty of care arise. A defendant’s actual knowledge may be shown, not only by direct evidence, but also by circumstantial evidence.

Offers of Proof on the Element of Scienter

The skill in these cases is knowledge of how to prove up the facts since you can expect the landlord to deny knowledge of the dog on the premises and also knowledge that the dog was vicious. Don’t expect to prove this out of the mouth of the landlord. Interview the USPS letter carrier, USP driver, pool gal, gardener, handyman, neighbors. Proving that the dog has a dangerous propensity or viciousness is one thing, but to impute this knowledge to the landlord may be difficult. What we see, is a neighbor complaining to tenant but not to the landlord. Subpoena the records of any management company for that tenant and animal control reports. Review the lease and emails. Document whether the culprit dog is off leash in the neighborhood. Does the dog growl, bare its fangs or lunge at people or dogs or any threatening behavior such as fence jumping and ramming? Prove the dog breed. Where is the dog kept and how is it kept?  Is the dog tied up? Photos of the dog tied up. This is not an exhaustive list. The more evidence you gather the more likely the court will find a meritorious case.

Landlord’s False Exculpatory Denials

A landlord’s false exculpatory denials of any knowledge of the vicious dogs’ existence and of having given permission for the dogs to be present on the property, may be deemed to constitute evidence of their consciousness of liability. You may be able to photo or video the dog’s behavior which demonstrates a dangerous propensity or viciousness, however, be careful not to violate privacy laws.  Discover whether the landlord or its agents inspect the premises.

Vicarious Liability

You may impute liability to the landlord through its agents such as management companies and caretakers under a vicarious liability theory. Also management companies should have additional insurance coverage.


Expect to prove up your claim before you are offered money in these types of lawsuits.


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