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Delivois v. Davis

A-1332-99T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2001) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD’S LIABILITY; PETS—It is not a probable consequence of a clause in a lease prohibiting pets that a dog will bite a person off-premises.

A tenant in a two-unit apartment dwelling owned two pit bulls even though her written lease prohibited her from maintaining pets. A young girl was attacked by one of the dogs while sitting on her porch a short distance from the tenant’s apartment. She sued the dog owner and the owner of the apartment house. In fact, a claim was made that the same dog had bitten another person in the neighborhood on an earlier date and that the landlord was aware that the pit bull was vicious. The landlord denied that he knew that his tenant kept dogs in the leased premises prior to the incident in question. Although he collected rent on a monthly basis, he claimed that he “never saw dogs, the pit bulls, in the yard” on any earlier date. Under the common law, a landlord ordinarily is not responsible for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog. However, a landlord owes a duty to his tenant or his tenant’s invitees to prevent injury from a tenant’s dog if the landlord is aware of the presence of the animal on his property and is also aware of its vicious propensities. Although the Court analyzed whether the landlord knew or did not know about the presence of the dogs or whether they were vicious, it held for the landlord on at least one other ground. Even though there is some “out-of-state authority for the proposition that a landlord may be held liable for injuries to a third party occurring off his premises caused by a dog owned by the landlord’s tenants,” the Court said that it was of “equal importance” that “the dog bite in this case did not take place within the common area of the landlord’s property.” Further, the attempt by the injured girl to argue that the landlord’s “failure to enforce the provision in the lease granting pets on the premises violated his duty of care” to the injured girl, was rejected by the Court. “[I]n the absence of proof that the landlord was aware of the dog’s vicious propensities, or perhaps that the dog was inherently vicious, liability should not be imposed upon the landlord. It is not a probable consequence of a breach of a no pet provision that a dog will bite another person.”

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