Beware of Pit Bull—Maryland Landlords, Condos and HOAs Face New Liability

by Tom Schild

The Maryland Court of Appeals — the highest state court — has changed the long-standing legal standard for landlord liability to victims of attacks by pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls which occur on leased property. 

In a landmark ruling in Tracey v. Solesky, the appeals court changed the “common law” of prior court decisions that a landlord is liable for the actions of a pit bull kept by a tenant only if the landlord had knowledge of “past vicious behavior” of that particular dog.

The new legal standard adopted by the 4-3 court decision on April 26 is that the dog owner and others who have “the right to control the pit bull’s presence” and knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull mix will be liable for injuries caused by the dog.

Concluding that pit bulls or cross-bred pit bulls are “inherently dangerous”, the appeals court specifically ruled that the new strict liability standard applied to a “landlord who has the right and/or opportunity to prohibit such dogs on leased premises.”  This could expose landlords and their management companies to liability for attacks by such dogs merely by allowing these breeds to be kept on the leased property.

For other dog breeds, the “common law” is unchanged and it will still be necessary to show knowledge of the prior vicious behavior of a particular dog in order to establish liability for a dog attack.

In a vigorous dissenting opinion, 3 of 7 appeals court judges opposed the new strict liability standard, noting that it applies to any dog “with a trace of pit bull ancestry” without any guidance how that is to be determined.

Although the court ruling involved a rental property, it applies broadly to others who have the “right to control” the presence of pit bulls — which includes condominiums and homeowner associations.  To avoid liability for attacks by pit bulls and pit bull mixed breed dogs, landlords, condos and HOAs now may decide to prohibit such breeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maryland General Assembly Considers Condo and HOA Bills

by Tom Schild

Same-sex marriage, budget deficits and tax hikes top the high-profile issues for the 2012 Maryland legislative session now underway in Annapolis.  For condominiums and homeowner associations, the focus will be on rules adoption and enforcement procedures, developer to homeowner transition, and manager licensing.

Legislation has been introduced to require all Maryland condominiums and homeowner associations to follow a specific rules enforcement procedure before imposing fines, suspending voting rights or infringing on owner rights for violation of association rules (HB 76/SB 184).

Also proposed is a bill to extend to homeowner associations the rules adoption procedure which already applies to condominiums.  This legislation would require notice to all homeowners and allow an opportunity to comment on a proposed rule before it can be adopted by the board of directors (HB 155).

Other proposed legislation would aid homeowners in the transition from developer to homeowner control of condos and HOAs by requiring the developer to appoint an independent owner to the board of directors when homes representing 25 percent of the votes in the community have been conveyed.  It would also require a developer to maintain independent books, records and accounts from the time the association is established.   Additionally, a developer would be required to notify members of a homeowner-controlled board of any government bonds related to the association and provide additional notice prior to requesting release from such bonds (HB 79/SB 202).

Future posts on the Maryland Condominium & HOA Law Blog will provide updates on these bills and other proposed legislation during the 2012 Maryland legislative session which runs until mid-April.