Skip to main content

Zukowitz v. Halperin

360 N.J. Super. 69, 821 A.2d 527 (App. Div. 2003)

LANDLORD-TENANT; PETS; LANDLORD LIABILITY—A landlord is not strictly liable if its superintendent’s dog bites a tenant, but if the superintendent was negligent the landlord may be vicariously liable.

A tenant in a 29 apartment building knocked on the superintendent’s door to report a leak. When the door opened, the superintendent’s dog ran out and bit the tenant. Under New Jersey law, “[t]he owner of a dog which shall bite a person while such a person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place including the property of the owner of the dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.” While this statute may have applied to the superintendent, by its terms it did not apply to the building owner because the building owner was not the dog’s owner. For that reason and because of an earlier New Jersey case that relieved the landlord from liability when one tenant was bitten by another tenant’s dog the lower court ruled in favor of the building owner. The Appellate Division, after pointing out why it would not address the question of a vicarious strict liability claim pointed out that the landlord may have been liable for its superintendent’s maintenance of the dog. There was no dispute that the superintendent was acting within the scope of his employment when accepting tenant complaints at the door of his apartment. “Whether [the superintendent was] negligent in allowing [his] dog to escape through the apartment door under all of the circumstances, [was] plainly a jury question.” If the superintendent was negligent under those circumstances, the lower court could find that the landlord was vicariously liable for its employee’s negligence.

66 Park Street • Montclair, New Jersey 07042
tel: 973-783-3000 • fax: 973-744-5757 •