PetLvr Mailbag: Liability and Renting as a Dog Owner

Dear PetLvr Mailbag …

What can a renter do when owning a dog to prevent the landlord from having any liability with regards to the dog’s behavior?

Essentially, the law states that a landlord can be held financially liable for injuries etc to a third party under certain circumstances.

Can renter’s insurance keep people from suing landlords over dog’s bites and such? Are there waivers that can be filed?

Signed .. Anok from Identity Check


Dear Anok,

First, a caveat: I am not a lawyer, and do not play one on TV, in the movies, or anywhere at all. However, I’ll answer your question to the best of my knowledge, and I advise you to consult a lawyer or at the very least an insurance agent in order to obtain information specific to your state.

Your landlord should carry some sort of personal liability insurance. It’s very likely that the same insurance policy that protects him against fire and other natural disasters also includes liability insurance of some sort. He may have waived this coverage when obtaining a policy, but most landlords do choose to obtain personal liability insurance. This protects a property owner if he or she is held liable in the case of an incident occurring on the rental property. However, some policies may specifically refuse to cover injuries due to the presence of a dog on the property. If a particular breed is banned in an area, insurers will not normally pay claims related to an attack by a dog of that breed.

Renter’s insurance usually includes the option to purchase personal liability protection, which would cover you in the case of a dog bite on your rental property. However, insurance cannot protect persons other than the policy holder. This means that if an injured party chose to sue you, they could also sue your landlord, and a judge would decide if one or both of you should be held accountable. The person(s) held liable in the civil suit would then have to file a claim against their insurance to pay the settlement, and any balance over the policy holder’s liability coverage would be out-of-pocket.

If the law states a landlord can be held liable for a particular incident, there is no action you can take that eliminates an injured party’s right to sue and name the landlord in a lawsuit. The law does not change based on what insurance you carry. However, if guests plan in participating in specific dog-related activities on your rental property, you can consult a lawyer about drafting a waiver asking guests to acknowledge the inherent risk of that activity and hold you and your landlord harmless in the event of a dog bite.

If a landlord is declining to rent to you because your dog is a liability, that probably means either his insurance doesn’t cover dog bites or bites from a dog of your dog’s breed, or that he simply does not want your dog as a tenant.

Finally, remember that the best cure for a dog bite is prevention, and even 15 minutes’ training per day can help to prevent serious behavior problems in the future.


If you have a pet related question that you would like Jelena Woehr to answer here in our “PetLvr Mailbag” series … send your question to jelena (at) PetLvr (dot) com

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  1. Anok
    | Reply

    Thanks Petlvr. I do have liability coverage and it does cover dogs (most breeds) as I found out from my insurance agent. What she said (just to add to the article) was that many people will only sue for a certain amount, and generally don’t go after the landlord unless they can’t get that amount from the tenant, or the landlord had direct responsibility in the incident. Meaning, that the insurance doesn’t “cover” the landlord, but the coverage amount typically prevents the third party from seeking further compensation from the landlord. Great post though!

    In my case I have found out that neither scenario you outlined seems to be true for me, and indeed, it’s just the landlord being a nasty you know what to spite me. (It’s personal, in other words).

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