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Dog Bite Liability For Rental Property

I was bitten by a dog that lives in my condo complex. The dog’s owner is a renter and says he has no renter’s insurance. Can I sue his landlord? What about the homeowner’s association?

- MFK, California


Liability of the landlord. The landlord would only be legally liable if you can prove that the landlord knew that the dog had bitten or attacked someone in the past, or knew that it had behaved aggressively and posed a danger. Without such evidence, the landlord is not on the hook for your injuries.

Liability of the homeowner's association. Whether the homeowner's association bears any liability depends on whether they did anything that was negligent and that negligence contributed to the occurrence of your injury. For example, are dogs allowed to be off leash in a dog park within the complex, and the dog that bit you got through a hole in the fence around the dog park? The homeowner's association's failure to properly maintain the fence was a contributing cause of your injury, making them liable.

Liability of the dog's owner. The dog's owner, however, is strictly liable under California law for any injuries caused by the dog, regardless of whether the dog had ever bitten anyone before. If you sue him, you will win. But does he have any assets? If the only defendant is an uninsured dog owner, an attorney most likely will not take the case because there is little likelihood of collecting money.

You should talk to other residents in the condo complex. Do they have any information to suggest that the condo's owner had reason to know that this dog was dangerous?

If your injuries are serious, you should definitely consult with a personal injury attorney. Even if the dog's owner is telling you he has no renter's insurance, he could be lying. An attorney can trace whether there is any insurance available to cover your claim.

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