Apartment living and dog bites: Is your landlord liable?

For a lot of people, the simple fact of living in an apartment building should not be the reason why they can't own a dog. In fact, many small breeds are well suited for apartment living and not only offer companionship and entertainment, but can also be trained as helper dogs for those with disabilities or special needs.

Unfortunately, much like people, a dog's temperament can fluctuate. A usually docile dog can easily become aggravated if the circumstances are right, which can lead to aggressive behavior that could leave an innocent bystander on the receiving end of a vicious bite. In these cases, compensation is owed to the victim, but who is liable to foot the bill?

In Kentucky, the answer to this question used to be found in a 2012 Kentucky Supreme Court decision that held landlords liable for any injuries suffered in an attack by a tenants' animal.

While some supported the court's decision, others saw the ruling as displacing blame onto landlords who may have no prior knowledge of an animal or its aggressive behavior. Why is this important? Typically, negligence is defined as having knowledge of or about a threat and choosing not to take steps to prevent harm or a dangerous situation from occurring. The 2012 decision seemed to fly in the face of this presumption, which led to a change last year.

Thanks to Kentucky House Bill HB112, which was signed by the governor on March 20, 2017, landlords of rental properties in Kentucky are now protected in dog attack cases. As a March 2017 Claims Journal article explains, the bill "restore[s] the status quo" and returns responsibility of an attack to the rightful people: pet owners.

Naturally, in instances where a landlord does know about a tenant animal's aggressive behavior and the landlord does not take steps to remove the animal from his or her property, liability could still fall on the landlord if an attack occurs.

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