Dog bite from departing tenant on new purchase

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Dog bite from departing tenant on new purchase

I’m a broker, one of my agents did property management. She took over managing this property in February of 2017. She visited the property to take pictures meet with the tenant and let them know who was taking over management. There were no animals at the property and no signs of any animals as she walked through the property. The tenant was sent out a new lease to sign from The new property management which she did not return. As a result she was still operating under the lease she signed with previous management company which we have a copy of. She did send a 30 day notice to vacate in April. When she went to collect the keys to the property which was left under a mat, She was approached by a private investigator who wanted to know if she was the owner. He told her that pit bulls from our property had seriously injured someone when they got out of the property. She told him that she knew nothing about that, he wanted a forwarding address for the tenant which she did not give him since she didn’t know him. Bottom line is the lease signed by the tenant did not allow for ant pets I have a copy of the lease tenant signed. We have been served on a law suit, are we liable?

Asked on December 27, 2018 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

Based on what you write, you are not liable: it was not your dog; the dog was not under your control; you had a lease providing for "no dogs," which the tenant violated, so the tenant was clearly operating outside the rules and contractual obligations--and you have taken steps to bar dogs; and you did not even know there was any dog. The fact that someone was bitten by a dog from your property does NOT, by itself, make you liable--you are only liable if at fault in causing the bite/injury, which based on what you write, you were not.
That said, don't ignore the lawsuit: if you don't respond, you lose by "default" (like forfeiting a sporting match by not showing up) even if the case is baseless. Instead respond, but deny your. liability and control over the animal, put forward that you did not own, control, know about, allow, etc. the animal; and when appropriate, move for dismissal or summary judgment in your favor. If your business is an LLC or a corpoeration, you must have a lawyer; even if not (or if you personally, not the business, are sued), you should have one, since a lawyer will know far better than you how to quickly and efficiently defend this suit. Also discuss with your lawyer whether you can countersue or seek sanctions, such as attorney's fees, for frivolous (baseless) litigation.


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