Going to the Dogs: Pitbulls, Dog Bites, and Landlord Liability

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“What? Liability? For me? Seriously?”

As a landlord or rental property owner, you need to be aware of possible areas where you are exposed to liability — and dogs are a big red flag.

But first things first. Allowing your renters to own dogs can be good. Here’s why: studies have found that renters who own pets are willing to pay more in rent, and they tend to rent for longer periods of time. In addition, vacancy rates are lower for rental units that are pet friendly.

However, dogs do come with a set of issues — from vicious dogs, to persistent barking, to multiple dogs, Denver landlords need to cover their bases. Here are some basic facts you need to know:

No Pitbulls in Denver

If you do allow dogs, you probably already know that pitbulls are not allowed in Denver. It’s a pretty clear rule, so you need to make sure your tenants are in compliance and that your lease agreement reflects this language. That means no American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, or any dog displaying physical traits of those breeds. The pitbull ordinance is pretty long, and there are some exceptions, so make sure you look it over.

No More Than Three Dogs

Denver’s zoning code allows for no more than three dogs and five cats; and no more than a total of five of both combined (Denver Zoning Code, Section 11.8.5). Pet-friendly landlords in Denver need to know that this is a maximum, and you can set any limit on cats or dogs which is less than that number.

Denver’s Leash Law

Denver also has a leash law, and dog owners cannot let their dogs run “at large.” Basically this means they have to be on a leash, or confined within an area so as not to have access to the public right-of-way. If you do allow dogs, make sure you reiterate that dogs must be kept on a leash at all times when not in the rental unit. If you have a fenced off-leash dog area, make sure you screen out aggressive dogs, which you should be doing anyway.

What If a Tenant’s Dog Bites Someone?

Under Colorado law, a landlord can be liable when a tenant’s dog bites someone if the landlord was aware, before entering into the lease agreement, that the dog was dangerous. However, this doesn’t mean that pre-lease you should try to be ignorant about whether or not a tenant’s dog is aggressive. If you want your other tenants to enjoy and use the premises (and you should, it’s your duty), then you need to screen out aggressive animals. And include a provision in your pet agreement that if you are ever notified that the tenant’s animal is aggressive, you reserve the right to require them to remove the dog from the premises.

If you’re a landlord in Denver, do you have any experiences or advice about dogs and tenants worth sharing? Let us know!

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