Are landlords liable for dog bites? If so how can real estate investors protect their assets?
The short answer is – yes, they can be.
According to some data sets:
- Someone seeks medical attention in the US for a dog bite every 40 seconds
- Almost 5M people are bitten by dogs each year
- 60% of dog bites happen at residences
Theoretically property owners can be held liable if a tenant’s dog attacks someone on the property, gets loose and attacks someone off of the property, and can even be fined if the type of dog is illegal in that jurisdiction, or is being neglected. Harsh, but true.
Now the exact law varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction all around the United States. There are normally tests to determine the extent of the landlord’s liability. This commonly includes their knowledge of the animal on the premises, breed of dog, and the level of control the owner has over the animal. However, just because you appear to be in the clear doesn’t mean you can’t have problems when there are pets in a rental property.
The Biggest Threats
Whether it is a dog, an exotic animal, or the tenants themselves, landlords can find themselves on the wrong end of lawsuits, and often do.
When this happens there are two big threats to deal with:
- Limiting liability to avoid being personally bankrupted
- Minimizing the disruption caused by the lawsuit itself
Without the right investment structure many landlords are just leaving themselves wide open to potentially have their personal and family assets, and incomes levied as the result of a malicious lawsuit. Without a steel asset protection umbrella your home, cars, kids’ college funds, retirement accounts, and future earnings can all be up for grabs.
Yet, while winning these cases is important, the damage done simply by being party to a lawsuit like this can be devastating. The legal representation costs are often the least of this. There is lost time off of work, expenses dealing with the case, potential for loss of rental income and even the property itself, and the ensuing loss of other income and your reputation.
True or not, all it takes is one news story or Facebook post and all of a sudden you are only known to the whole world as “that notorious property owner whose dog mauled that poor child.”
Picture any battle scene you like. Knights, soldiers, or Spartans; they all carry around their shields, and enter the battlefield with their shields firmly raised between themselves and the threat. Can you imagine if they all lined up facing each other, and then only after being pelted with barrages of arrows, then went to look for their shields or to ask the ironsmith to make one? It would be way too late right?
Sadly, that’s just how many real estate investors enter the property market.
Smart steps to being protected include:
- Acquiring title to properties under the right entity structure
- Having sufficient insurances
- A smart asset protection plan which separates business and personal assets and income
- Having a great attorney on staff
Perhaps even more important is not putting yourself out there as a juicy prospective victim. If you walk around with wads of hundreds falling out of your pocket, rocking expensive jewelry, and carelessly waving your new iPhone around when traveling as a tourist, you would expect to be robbed right?
If you kept those things out of sight in your pocket, your chances of being a victim may go down by 90% or more.
The same goes for being an investor and property owner. Smart asset protection moves can preserve your privacy and dramatically limit the chances your tenant’s neighbors are going to be running around wrapped in bacon begging the dog to bite them.
Authored by Titanium Asset Protection
Titanium Asset Protection is an elite asset protection firm with licensed California attorneys on staff who specialize in asset protection, trusts, corporate law, succession planning, bankruptcy, real estate, and tax law. Our team has successfully represented clients to the highest levels of the justice system in fighting to protect them, and their finances, with lead counsel Matt serving as the Ethics Chairman for Le Tip International, The Chapter of Orange for 15 years, being an honored member of the revered Wealth Counsel.