On average, I am involved in 10-15 rental transactions a year. I have represented the Landlord in some transactions and I have represented the Tenant in others.
I find that Landlords are often torn on whether or not they want to rent to a Tenant who has a pet or pets. Most are worried about the damages that one or several would do to the property. You know, the normal things like: urinate on the carpet, scratch the hardwoods, damage the carpets, chew the trim, etc. Surprisingly, many of these Landlords have pets of their own, who have in fact resided in the property that is going up for rent. It is that they simply don’t trust other peoples’ pets. For the past year, though, I have been having a different conversation with Landlords in regards to pets. I have been educating them on the risks of renting their homes out to Tenants with pit bull breeds. Not because of the damages they can cause to the property, but because of the risks involved if they bite.
In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals determined that pit bulls were inherently dangerous. No matter the history of the dog, it was essentially: one bite and you’re out. This then turned a dog bite by a pit bull into a “strict liability” for, not only the dog Owner, but also the Landlord. Even if the Landlord did not know the Tenant had a dog (no dogs included in the Lease) and the dog had bitten someone, the Landlord would be held liable. This was introducing a host of additional issues that began to pop up – involving homeowners insurance coverage, condo management, and Homeowners Associations.
The Maryland Association of REALTORS (MAR) made addressing this issue a top priority during this legislative session. Bill SB 247 was introduced and MAR made a Call to Action for its association members and Maryland residents to let their Senators know that they supported this compromise. The bill aimed to eliminate a Landlord’s liability on a dog bite and put the liability on the Owner of the dog. In addition, it got rid of specifics on breed and “strict liability”- allowing responsible dog owners to have a defense if their dogs showed a history of good behavior, training, etc.
On Friday February 28th, the Senate passed legislation of SB 247, 45-0. The house has HB73 that is awaiting a vote.