Can a Landlord Be Held Liable If a Pet Owned By a Tenant Causes An Injury to a Neighbour or Passerby?

If Wrongdoing By a Landlord, Such As Failure to Maintain Premises, Causes or Contributes to Injuries Occurring As a Result of An Incident With a Pet or Animal Owned By a Tenant, Then Liability May Fall Upon the Landlord.

Understanding the Risk of Third Party Liability of Landlord Due to Tenant Owned Animals That Injure Some Other Person

Lawsuit Document It may seem surprising that a landlord could be sued and become liable for injuries or damages caused by the pets or animals which are owned by a tenant; however, the situation has occurred; and while unfortunate for the landlord, the case for liability against the landlord involved a relatively straightforward application of the law and common principles.

The Law

This actual scenario occurred in Youssef v. Redi-Mix Limited, 2018 ONSC 6409 (which was upheld by the Court of Appeal and where leave for appeal to the Supreme Court was denied). In the Youssef case, Redi-Mix was the owner and thus landlord of a property rented to a tenant.  The tenant owned donkeys that were kept upon the rented property.  Redi-Mix knew that the tenant owned the donkeys and that the tenant was using fenced fields for grazing by the donkeys; however, despite such knowledge, Redi-Mix failed to implement procedures for inspecting and repairing the fences, if or when necessary.  Subsequently, a serious incident occurred when Mr. Youssef struck a donkey, or donkeys, that escaped from the field through the fence that was poorly maintained by Redi-Mix.  Mr. Youssef sued Redi-Mix and when determining liability against Redi-Mix, the court said:

[44]  I am satisfied that the tenant Mark Burnfield was negligent in allowing the mules to wander from the property onto Winchester Road by means of his failure to secure the gate or fence along the side of the property.  By the time the investigating officer arrived the donkeys had congregated near this fence and the officer, with simple human force, was able to pry open the gate or fence and the donkeys returned to the field.  Mr. Burnfield has not disputed the claims against him and has been noted in default with respect to the plaintiff’s claim and the defendant’s third party claim.

[45]  I am also satisfied that the defendant Redi-Mix was negligent with respect to its duties and obligations as a residential landlord of rural property.  The following points assist me in drawing that conclusion:

• Redi-Mix purchased this residential rural property with existing fences.

• Redi-Mix leased this property to Mr. Burnfield in 2006 with the knowledge that he had domestic animals there.

• The accident happened approximately three years after the lease was entered into but Redi-Mix had no policy or procedure in place to inspect or repair the fences knowing it was their obligation to do so.  The controller Carmen Kulesza had no knowledge of any inspection of fences.  Dominic Suppa, the chief financial officer, indicated he had never inspected the fence.  His only knowledge about fencing came from information provided to him by Mr. Lamanna.  Mr. Lamanna made several visits to the property over the years.  One such visit was to repair a certain area of fence.  The other visits were unrelated to fencing.  Mr. Lamanna was unsure whether his last inspection was before or after the accident.

• The Residential Tenancies Act sets out that landlords are responsible for providing and maintaining a residential complex in a good state of repair.

• The Regulation under the Residential Tenancies Act further sets out that fences and exterior areas shall be maintained in a structurally sound condition and free from hazard.

[46]  I am satisfied that the record before me provides the court with sufficient information to make a determination with respect to the landlord’s negligence without the necessity of a trial.  I therefore grant judgment in favour of the plaintiff Amir Youssef against the defendant 693316 Ontario Limited o/a Toronto Redi-Mix Limited on the issue of liability.  The issue of damages remains a triable issue.

As per the Youssef case above, a landlord is required by statute law to maintain a rental unit and the rental complex, including the fences that are intended to keep animals, that may be owned by the tenant, from escaping the property.  This statutory obligation to maintain the rented premises is prescribed within the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, S.O. 2006, Chapter 17, as well as the General Maintenance, O. Reg. 517/06 regulation to the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, wherein each it is respectively stated:

Landlord’s responsibility to repair

20 (1) A landlord is responsible for providing and maintaining a residential complex, including the rental units in it, in a good state of repair and fit for habitation and for complying with health, safety, housing and maintenance standards.

Same

(2) Subsection (1) applies even if the tenant was aware of a state of non-repair or a contravention of a standard before entering into the tenancy agreement.

Retaining walls, guards and fences

8.  Retaining walls, guards and fences in exterior common areas shall be maintained in a structurally sound condition and free from hazards.

Summary Comment

Although a landlord is often an absent landlord, meaning living away from the rental premises, and is therefore without direct or immediate possession of the rented property, the landlord does remain obligated by law to perform the maintenance of the rental unit and the rental complex. Accordingly, a landlord may, upon failing to properly maintain a rental unit or rental complex, be held liable if the failure to perform proper maintenance causes or contributes to injuries or damage.  This liability risk applies even for scenarios involving the escape of an animal owned by a tenant where the animal escapes through a poorly maintained fence and causes injury to a neighbour or person passing by.

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