Is a landlord required to warn tenants of dangerous dogs in the neighbordhood?

January 12, 2016 9:17 pm Published by

Wylie v. Gresch, 191 Cal. App. 3d 412, 236 Cal. Rptr. 552 (1987)

Is a landlord required to warn tenants of dangerous dogs in the neighbordhood?

Answer:

No.

Summary of Facts:

Defendants Joseph Gresch and Ann Gresch owned residential property at 85 Essendon Street in San Jose. At the time of the incident October 19, 1981, they owned, managed, operated, maintained, and controlled the premises. About two months before plaintiffs Donald Wylie and
Linda Wylie, husband and wife, had leased the premises from the Gresches and had moved in with their three minor children. The minor children of the Wylies were: Teresa age 12 the dog bite victim; Sharon age 14; and Helen age 17, who were also plaintiffs. The Gresches, as landlords, had a special relationship, landlord-tenant, with each of the plaintiffs and owed them a duty of care. Defendants Buzzell were neighbors and lived at 83 Essendon Street, which they rented from defendant Houston, who owned and managed the property. The Buzzells owned a pit bull dog that had attempted to attack persons, had attacked other dogs and animals in the neighborhood, had damaged property, and shown vicious propensities. The Gresches had actual and constructive knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities, but did not warn the Wylies of the dog and its vicious propensities. On the day in question, Michael Buzzell invited and permitted Teresa Wylie to pet the dog. The dog then bit off the child’s ear and inflicted other severe injuries.

COURTS OPINION

The dog was kept by strangers to the landlords on premises over which the landlords had no control. So there were no facts which would give rise to liability under Civil Code section 1714 or the cases construing it. There is no allegation that Defendants Gresch could have foreseen or prevented, by any maintenance of their property, the injury suffered by the child. When avoidance of foreseeable harm requires a defendant to control the conduct of another person, or to warn of such conduct, the common law has traditionally imposed liability only if the defendant bears some special relationship to the dangerous person or to the potential victim.
There is no indication that the Gresches created a dangerous situation. Nor is there any reason to believe that the Wylies relied on the landlords to warn them of any possible danger. A landlord is not an insurer of a tenant’s safety, even from dangers which come onto the land.

There is a special relationship exists between landlord and tenant, but it would be unreasonable to extend the resulting duty in the landlord beyond the duty imposed on landlords to disclose defective conditions on their leased premises. The lessor must have reason to believe that the lessee will not discover the condition, or that the lessee will not realize the risk. It is settled that while a landlord is under a duty to warn the tenant of any hidden danger or defect in the leased premises of which the landlord has knowledge, there is no duty to warn the tenant of obvious and patent defects and dangers. There is no duty to disclose conditions which are known to the tenant, or which are so open and obvious that the tenant should be expected to discover them when he or she takes possession, or are of a kind, such as a flight of steps, or poison ivy on a campsite, which anyone might expect to encounter, and therefore be able to look out for herself.
That is precisely the situation here. Landlords in this situation could reasonably expect that appellants would discover the presence of the dog for themselves. A vicious dog is a danger one might expect to encounter anywhere in our society. Even if there is a special relationship between landlord and tenant, it would be unreasonable to extend it beyond the basis of the relationship which is the subject property. Dangers in the neighborhood no different to tenants than the general public. Neither the tenant nor members of the public rely on a landlord to warn them of such dangers.
The court held that a landlord has no duty to warn a prospective tenant of the presence of a vicious dog in the neighborhood.

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This post was written by Orange Dog Bite Attorney

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