Landlord Liability and the “Dog Bite Bill: in KY
I first wrote an article about the Kentucky “Dog Bite Bill” back in 2012. Today I have an update for you. This bill has the ability to place a huge amount unwanted liability on landlords not only here in Kentucky, but in other areas as well. Don't assume that this doesn't affect you and your business if you are in another state.
When I wrote about the Dog Bite Bill in 2012, I found that states all across the US were changing their laws too. I got emails from folks in many different parts of the country. This is definitely not something you want to ignore.
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The Big Question is No Longer Whether or Not to Allow Pets
Whether or to allow pets in your rental property has always been a hot topic, but that is no longer the real question. The big question is how do you protect yourself from tenants that have pets you don’t allow?
A lot of landlords don’t allow pets because the fact of the matter is they have a pretty good record of damaging your property. Now before you think I am one of those “anti-pet” folks let me say that I am a pet lover. I have several pets myself.
However, when you are a landlord you have a business decision to make about whether or not to allow pets in your rental homes. With the dog bite bill staring you in the face, this is all about your liability as a landlord.
In my experience, if the potential tenant finds out you don’t allow pets in your rental property and they already have one they just sneak it in anyway once they have moved in.
For tenants that move into your property and later decide to break the rules and get an “illegal pet”, not only are they are putting you at risk but you have missed the opportunity to collect pet deposits and additional monthly fees up front for the dog(s) or cat(s) to cover any damage.
While these amounts of money rarely take care of all of the damage (especially for a short term tenants), good tenants often stay longer if they are allowed to bring their pet and are willing to pay additional fees for that privilege. Ultimately you have to decide which policy fits your business model.
In the past the big question was always, “do I allow pets and the potential damage they bring with them”? Now that conversation has changed. It is not only about the potential damage, but about this new liability for landlords whether or not those pets were “allowed”.
Here’s the thing; even if you have a “no pet policy”, you are still at risk in most cases and certainly in the state of Kentucky.
Do You Really Understand Your Risk?
Every landlord should all be familiar with laws of their particular state as well as the policies of their individual insurance companies regarding dogs and specifically those breeds that are considered to be dangerous. Here are some questions you should be able to answer:
- Are there any breeds of dogs that aren’t covered under the terms of your insurance policy?
- How does your state define who he dog’s owner is?
- What is your liability if your tenant’s dog bites someone?
- How can you protect yourself from this often hidden liability?
One thing that you can do to protect yourself is to have regular unannounced visits to your property. Don’t take the tenant’s word when it comes to pets.
How Kentucky Defines Who the Owner of the Dog Is
The Kentucky Supreme Court defined the owner of the dog as, “every person having a right of property in the dog and every person who keeps or harbors the dog, or has it in his care, or permits it to remain in or about the premises owned or occupied by him”.
What that means in really simple terms is that the owner of the property is also the owner of the dog. So that illegal pit bull or other dog that is considered to be a dangerous breed of dog is your responsibility even if you didn’t have any knowledge of it.
The $10,000 Fine
After I wrote the original article back in 2012, I got a message from a landlord in Miami stating she had just been fined by the Miami Dade County Animal Services. To be more specific she was fined $10,000 for EACH pit bull (there were two) that lived in her rental property.
She had been notified by the neighbors that the dogs were running loose in the neighborhood and that they were illegal in that county. Thinking that she was she was doing the right thing, she called animal control to help her get rid of the illegal dogs.
Animal control stated to her that she was the owner of the property and was therefore responsible for the dogs and issued the fine.
This is once again just a reminder to find out what the laws are in YOUR state.
You can find the original article I wrote By Clicking Here.
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Landlords Beware – Kentucky Dog Bite Bill Update | isn’t
a perfect article, but it covers a great deal of knowledge.
So then if there is a law stating that you must accept a pet if the tenant claims it is a therapy dog or for a medical reason and that dog happens to be a pit bull and that pit bull happens to bite someone the Landlord is still responsible even though they could not refuse the dog?
Makes you wonder what kind of morons write laws.
Michael – The tenant has to supply you with the forms for therapy dogs. You can then call the doctor or person stating that it is a therapy dog. Tenants sometimes come up with phony forms. If you verify that it is a therapy dog then the next step is to take that information to your insurance carrier. I have never heard of that type of dog being used as a therapy dog.
Sharon, you make some excellent points that all landlords should consider about pets.
Gabe – This is serious business for sure. Thanks for reading.
Incredibly useful information here. It’s unfortunate that Kentucky has this in place and is finding landlords responsible for dangerous things their tenants are doing with their pets. Hopefully this does not become a trend among other states as well. Thanks for sharing!
But in the end it should really depend on the dog shouldn’t it. I allow pets in my properties, BUT I first always meet the pet. If it is a dog, I have them meet my dogs and children to see how they react. I check vet records as well as ask for many references that can vouch to the stability of the pet.
Hi Jessica – Whether or not to allow pets is definitely an individual (business) decision. The problem with these laws is that it is the “unknown” and “not allowed breeds” that are the biggest problem. I wish I knew what the answer .was. It is really unfair to the landlords to make them responsible for someone else’s pet (and the subsequent financial an legal ramifications).