A prospective tenant wants to lease a property that I manage, but he owns a pit bull. May I refuse to lease to the tenant, who is otherwise qualified? If I do lease the property to him, what type of precautions should I take?

A landlord may refuse to lease properties to those who own animals (unless the tenant qualifies to have a service animal under the Fair Housing Act), or who own certain types of animals (for example, pit bulls). The landlord must be careful to consistently enforce such a policy.

The issue of a dangerous pet or animal on a property can impose liability issues both for the tenant and the landlord. There have been a few reported cases in which dogs with allegedly vicious propensities have bitten neighbors, including children. The liability in such cases typically turns on the issue of control. Which party—landlord, tenant, or both—exercised control over the property and pet? The tenant may be liable, as he exercises control over the pet and the property. Many times, however, landlords retain certain rights to enter the property and exercise some degree of control, although minimal.

Briefly, the liability issue for the landlord may depend on what the landlord knew related to

  • The pet’s history and propensities
  • Any requirements the landlord imposed on the tenant related to the pet
  • What the landlord knew of the tenant’s care of the pet.

For situations in which the landlord is contemplating leasing to a tenant with a dangerous pet, the landlord should seek the advice of an attorney to draft a specific addendum to the lease to address issues such as containment requirements, signage, locks, and insurance.