In Ohio, a landlord will generally not be held responsible for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog, so long as the tenant is in the exclusive possession and control of the premises.
Let’s take a closer look at why this is so.
Absent a contrary agreement, a lease agreement transfers both the possession and the control of the premises to the tenant. See Burrell v. Iwenofu, Cuyahoga App.No. 81230,2003-Ohio-1158, Hilty v. Topaz, Franklin App.No. 04AP-13, 2004-Ohio 4859, Parker v. Sutton (1991) 72 Ohio App.3d 296 and 299 and Hurst v. Manalo (Jul. 29, 1999), Cuyahoga App.No. 74270.
The Ohio Court of Appeals found that as long as a landlord retains that degree of possession and control over the premises, a genuine issue of material fact remains whether a landlord “harbored” the dog for purposes of R.C. 95528 and the common law principles. (4th Appellate District Court of Appeals, Ross County, Case No.: 06CA2917, 2007-Ohio-3885.)
Liability for Dangerous Animals
Under Ohio law, two or more persons may be owners, keepers and/or harborers of a single dog and they are all jointly liable for injuries or damages inflicted by the dog. See Hill v. Hughes (4th appellate district Court of Appeals, Ross County, Case No.: 06CA2917, 2007-Ohio-3885, Rosenblatt v. Bosse (1934) 50 Ohio App. 449, and Hall v. Rodholm (Dec. 1, 1982), Cuyahoga App.No.44665. An owner is defined as “the person to whom the dog belongs***.” A keeper is defined as “The one having physical charge or care of the dog.” When the owner is actually present, the keeper’s duties have ended since the owner has resumed physical control of the dog. Khamis v. Everson (1993), 88 Ohio App.3d 220 and 226.
In a landlord/tenant relationship, it is well established in Ohio that a lease transfers both possession and control of the leased premises to the tenant. See Thompson v. Irwin (Oct. 27, 1997), Butler App.No. CA97-05-101, citing Riley v. Cincinnati Metro. Housing Authority (1973), 36 Ohio App.2d 44 and 48. As such, a landlord typically only keeps possession and control over the common areas of the leased premises. A common area is defined as “an area over which multiple people have possession and control.” See Engwert-Loyd v. Ramirez, Lucas App.No. L-06-1084, 2006-Oiho-5468 and Burrell v. Iwenofu, 8th Dist. No. 81230,2003-Ohio-1158 at 15.
When Landlords Might Be Liable
“A landlord’s liability as a harborer for injuries inflicted by a tenant’s dog is limited to those situations in which the landlord permitted the tenant’s dog in common areas.” Thompson, citing Flint, 80 Ohio App.3d and 25.
As such, Ohio courts typically hold that “a landlord can and should be liable only if the dog attacks someone in the common areas or in an area shared by both the landlord and the tenant.” Burgess v. Tackas (1998), 125 Ohio App.3d 294, 297.
Ohio courts have declined to hold a landlord liable merely because he “has knowledge of the presence of the dangerous animal and has a right to control or remove the animal from the premises.” See Dunn v. Platt (Dec. 6, 1988), Franklin App.No. 88-AP-268 (holding that there was an issue of fact, however, regarding whether the landlord was a keeper of the dog). Also see Flint, 80 Ohio App.3d at 25, stating that “landlords out of possession can be found liable for injuries caused by animals owned and kept on the leased premises by the tenant where the landlord has knowledge of the dangerous animal but fails to take any action to have the animal removed or confined.”
Other Ohio courts have found landlords not liable as harborers in instances where the tenant has breached a rule established by the landlord regarding pets, thus giving the landlord the right to force the tenant to get rid of the pet. See Burgess v. Tackas (1998), 125 Ohio App.3d 294, 297.
The determination of whether one is a harborer is not based entirely on whether one has control of the premises, but, whether the alleged harborer has possession and control of the premises. See Hill vs. Hughes 2007-Ohio-3885.
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