Dogs In Rentals Create Unique Liability Issues


Every week we address applications where the potential tenants own a dog.  I understand why people own dogs. I own a dog.  Certain breeds of dogs are considered aggressive which complicates the issue of dogs in rentals. I know many people own dog breeds with this “aggressive” label. They are insulted when told that the owner of the rental can’t rent to them because their insurance will not cover the liability.
An application will not reveal how the dog is treated in the home environment.  It may be very sweet and calm, or it may show aggressive tendencies. People who are attacked by dogs tend to hire an attorney.  They will sue the owner of the home and the tenant who owns the dog.  These lawsuits can be very expensive to defend and the settlements usually involve medical bills, loss of income, and psychological distress caused by the dog.
Why would any owner want dogs in rentals unless these risks can be mitigated?

Aggressive dogs and strangers

True story.  At an eviction we ended up having to bring the Sheriff to create an “involuntary relocation”.  The tenant did agree to let the Sheriff and myself inside to assess how much she had in the home for the waiting moving van.  As she was opening the door for us to enter, she said, “Oh, you are OK with dogs right?”  I immediately considered if a pet was approved…and what type of pet at that?  The Sheriff quickly had a response.  “Ma’am, that dog needs to be put outside immediately.  If that dog is in this home and moves toward me I will shoot it.”
The soon-to-be former tenant hysterically went to look for the dog (a collie mix that was approved). The Sheriff looked at me and told me why he responded the way he did.  A few months earlier a tenant in an eviction told the sheriff they had a small mutt and he was harmless.  The Sheriff still told them to put the dog in a secure area and proceeded in the property.  The small mutt was actually a pit bull mix.  Shortly thereafter the dog was allowed out of the secure area and charged the Sheriff. He says he did shoot it and killed it.  Rather traumatic event for all, even the Sheriff.  In his line of work he has learned that dogs can be aggressive when faced with many different situations.  Much of how they will respond is based on how the owner trains the dog.
A dog charging at anyone is considered aggressive behavior.  Defending oneself becomes a priority.  We owners are often to blame for how our dogs will behave in an unusual circumstances.  That is why dogs in rentals have to be very carefully considered.

Aggressive Dog Breeds and Insurance Prohibitions

Dog bites are a major financial burden for the insurance industry. A representative from Allstate is quoted that dog bites account for one-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims!  The average claim costs approximately $30,000 with some rewards in the seven-figure range!
Insurance companies have to control this risk.  They do so by creating lists of dog breeds they consider dangerous from their claims experience.  These breeds of dogs will not be covered for an owner on their homeowners policy and can be assumed to also be excluded for renters insurance.   This means a claim related to actions by one of these breeds of dogs will not have insurance to protect the owner or tenant.   Different insurers have different lists of breeds so no assumptions can automatically be made.  It is important that the application from the tenant include a disclosure of the breed and a picture so that the owner may confirm a decision of coverage from their insurer.
There are 14 breeds that are most commonly excluded (not insured) by the major insurers.
Pit Bull Terriers
Staffordshire Terriers
German Shepherds
Presa Canarios
Chows Chows
Doberman Pinschers
Cane Corsos
Great Danes
Alaskan Malamutes
Siberian Huskies

How To Mitigate The Risk of a Dog In Your Rental

As a property owner, the issue of dogs in one of your homes can’t be taken lightly.  We all love dogs and most dogs are nothing but caring friends.  Many young dogs do have destructive tendencies.  We can’t mitigate every possibility of a problem with a dog as part of a tenancy.   An owner should do everything possible to protect themselves from liabilities.  A dog attack will likely result in medical claims and possible liability lawsuits.
What can an owner do to reduce or mitigate these risks?

Do Not Rent To Tenants With Dogs

This is a fair option.  In making this decision you are eliminating a fairly sizeable part of the applicant pool.  In discussing this issue with an owner, I like to review the rental itself.  is the rental a small condo with shared walls and limited green space?  Or is it a nice 4 bedroom on a half-acre lot?  The potential that an applicant owns a dog will be greater in the rental that is more conducive to a family and pets.  Not renting to applicants with dogs in a small one bedroom should not have as big of a negative effect on the potential renters.

Obtain An Umbrella Liability Policy

One alternative for rental owners is to purchase a special kind of insurance called an umbrella liability policy.  Anybody who owns investment properties should carry a large umbrella liability policy.  These types of policies provide coverage for injuries, damages and losses not covered by the owner’s homeowner coverage.  There are so many risks associated with owning a rental, it is prudent to invest in one of these policies.  Plus, the umbrella can step in if the homeowners coverage declines claims associated with a dog attack.

Dog Owner Liability Insurance

There are even some companies now offering specific “canine liability coverage” policies.  You can learn more about these policies and who offers them here.
Discuss your situation with your agent and decide how much is enough.  Dogs in rentals are a reality for most investment properties.  Know how you will respond the next time you are asked by an applicant, or your current tenant, if you allow dogs.

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