The Illinois Landlord’s Responsibility For Dog Bites

You can’t go anywhere in the City of Chicago without seeing a dog.  The Chicago Park District lists no fewer than eighteen dog parks in the City of Chicago.  Whether or not allow pets, especially dogs, is a question that regularly confronts landlords.  On the plus side, allowing pets usually expands a landlord’s pool of available renters making marketing time shorter and less expensive.  On one hand, pets can cause lots of damage to rental units, drive away “allergic” tenants, and cause noise problems for neighbors.  A landlord also needs to consider what would happen if a pet in the landlord’s building attacked another person.  Is a landlord responsible for damage to third parties caused by a tenant’s pet?In the 2004 Illinois Second District Appellate Court case Klitzka v. Hellios, a landlord was sued when a tenant’s dog attacked a little girl on the rental premises.  At issue in the case was whether or not a landlord owed a duty of care to the tenant’s invitees to prevent injury from an attack by the tenant’s animal.

The court pointed to the traditional common law doctrine that where a landlord retains control of a portion of a premises leased to a tenant, the landlord has a duty, as the party in control, to use ordinary care in maintaining that part of the premises.  The court went on to point out that a landlord is not liable for injuries caused by a dangerous or defective condition on the premises leased to a tenant under the tenant’s control.  The Klitzka court determined the general rule that a landlord who relinquishes control of a rental property to a tenant owes no duty to a third party injured while on leased property.  However, the court pointed out that there are exceptions to the general rule where a landlord who does not have control can be found liable for damages related to (1) latent defects the landlord should have known about, (2) dangerous conditions concealed by a landlord, (3) defects that amount to a nuisance, (4) conditions the landlord agreed to repair, (5) violations of laws by the landlord meant to protect a class of people the tenant belongs to, and (6) services voluntarily rendered by a landlord.

In the Klitzka case, the landlord rented an entire home to the tenant.  As such, the landlord retained no control over the premises. The court concluded with the following:

We hold that a landlord owes no duty to a tenant’s invitee to prevent injuries proximately caused by an animal kept by the tenant on the leased premises if the landlord does not retain control over the area where the injury occurred.  A landlord does not retain such control where he has the right to coerce the removal of the animal by threatening to terminate the tenancy.

What about a multi-unit building with common areas?  It can probably be argued that the landlord is certainly in control of those areas.  As such, a landlord who rents to people with animals would probably be wise to take precautions to abide by the duty of ordinary care in maintaining those parts of the premises controlled by the landlord.  This might mean rules for pets such as lease and muzzle rules or prohibitions on when and where pets can go.

Like most leasing issues, there is no clear cut answer, but landlords would do well to give serious consideration to the issue to avoid liability down the line.  If you are a landlord interested in drafting a lease that thoughtfully deals with pets and other issues and is more than just a “store bought form”, consider giving us a call 773-399-1122 to see if we might be of assistance.

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