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Your tenant’s animals

Your tenant’s got a pit bull. Are you responsible if it attacks someone? The Arkansas Supreme Court took this issue up earlier this year in Mills v. Finch, a case out of Lonoke County.

Ms. Mills’ 7 year old boy was playing in his yard when a dog owned by a Mr. Joe Stocks came into the yard. The boy reached to pet the dog and the dog attacked, causing substantial injury. Mr. Stocks rented a house down the street from a Mrs. Finch, who Ms. Mills alleged knew Mr. Stocks’s dog was vicious.

The trial court denied the claim against Mrs. Finch, and the Court of Appeals agreed. They first referenced an older case, Bryant v. Putnam, where they had denied liability of a landlord after a dog attack when there was no evidence the landlord knew of the dog’s propensities. Ms. Mills attempted to create some new law by arguing the knowledge of the dog’s vicious nature by the landlord changed the rule. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding:

Contrary to her argument, the court in Bryant made no distinction between a landlord who was aware of the animal’s dangerous propensities and a landlord who was not. In either case, a landlord is not responsible to third parties who are harmed by animals owned by their tenants.

This is consistent with the general rule in Arkansas that a landlord is not responsible for harm that comes to tenants or third parties.

One thing to note – this case does not impact the liability of the dog’s owner.

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