Hyun Na Seo v. Yozgadlian

320 N.J. Super. 68, 726 A.2d 972 (App. Div. 1999)
  • Opinion Date: April 9, 1999

LANDLORD-TENANT; LANDLORD’S LIABILITY—A landlord is not liable for injuries caused to one tenant by another tenant’s dog simply because the dog was kept in violation of a no pets clause in the lease.

A tenant in a two family home was bitten by a dog owned by another tenant. The injury took place in the back yard and the tenant sued the landlord and the dog’s owner. The lower court concluded that the landlord had no knowledge that the dog was vicious but that “for the landlord to allow the employee (the basement tenant) to keep a dog, the landlord takes on the responsibility of insuring that the dog does not do any damage to the other tenants who moved in with the understanding that there would be no pets in this home.” In fact, the bitten tenant had leased this apartment with the understanding that no pets were permitted. The Appellate Division disagreed. While under the common law, the owner of a dog that bites a person is strictly liable for damages incurred by the person bitten regardless of the form of viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness, a landlord is ordinarily not responsible for injuries caused by its tenant’s dog. While it is true that a landlord owes a duty to its tenants to prevent injury from a tenant’s dog if it is aware of the presence of the animal on the property and is also aware of the dog’s vicious propensities, here, where the lower court specifically found that the landlord was unaware of any vicious propensities, it was not strictly liable to a bitten tenant. In addition, the Court refused to conclude that a lease provision prohibiting the keeping of pets makes a landlord into an insurer by any damages caused by a tenant in violation of that provision. Consequently, the Court declined to impose liability for damages upon the landlord for injuries caused by the tenant’s dog to another tenant simply because the tenant kept the dog in violation of a no pet policy. Instead, the Court believed that a landlord’s responsibility should be determined by ordinary negligence principles.