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Landlords Need Not Deny Puppy Love

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By: Erica Stutman

Dog-lovers will be happy to know they may rent property to a tenant and the tenant’s dog without necessarily being subject to strict liability if man’s best friend turns out to be not-so-friendly after all.  In Spirlong v. Browne, the Arizona Court of Appeals decided that the strict liability for injuries or damages caused by a dog that is imposed upon a person “keeping” a dog requires that the person exercises care, custody, or control of the dog, and that merely allowing a dog to live in your property does not alone subject a person to liability.  698 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 4 (10/28/14).

 Bulldog Under Arizona law, a dog owner (or person responsible for the dog when damages are inflicted) is liable for   personal injury or property damage caused by their dog while at large.  See   A.R.S. § 11-1020.   A dog owner is strictly liable for damages caused by a dog bite to a person who is in a public place or lawfully in a private place, meaning the dog owner is liable even if the owner acted carefully and the dog was not formerly vicious or the owner did not know of the dog’s viciousness.    See A.R.S. § 11-1025.  A dog “owner” is a person “keeping” the dog for more than six consecutive days.  See A.R.S. § 11-1001.

In Spirlong, Charles Browne rented two rooms in his house to Mr. Mayes, his wife, and their two dogs.  One day when Mayes left his dog, Joop, out of his crate, Browne’s girlfriend put Joop in the backyard.  Joop escaped, and bit and injured a boy riding his bike nearby.  The boy’s parents sued Mayes, Browne, and Browne’s girlfriend, though Mayes and Browne’s girlfriend did not defend the action.

In finding that Browne was Joop’s statutory “owner,” the lower court found that Browne was “keeping” Joop because he allowed Joop to live in his home.  The appellate court disagreed with the lower court’s ruff interpretation, explaining that a person should not be held to the high standard of strict liability as an owner unless he is actually involved in the dog’s care, custody, or control, which allows a person to decide whether the dog presents the risk of potential liability. Someone who merely allows another person’s dog to live on his property but does not treat the person as a member of his own household is not liable for injuries caused by the other person’s dog.

In sum, a person “keeping” a dog for purposes of the Arizona statutes is a person who exercises care, custody, or control of a dog.  Ultimately this is a factual question that depends on the circumstances, but merely allowing a dog to live on property you control does not alone constitute “keeping” a dog.