March 2020
Missouri Appellate Court reaffirms law on landlord liability for tenant’s dog bite
Kevin Looby

Missouri Courts have consistently held that a landlord is not liable for harms caused by an animal owned by a tenant. In A.T. v. Satterfield, 597 S.W.3d 797 (Mo. Ct. App. 2020), the Court continued with that tradition in a case where plaintiff filed suit alleging injuries caused by a dog owned by a tenant and kept on premises owned by defendants.

 

The appellate court ultimately upheld the trial court’s granting of summary judgment, holding that there was no evidence the defendants possessed or harbored the dog, which is required to find liability under Sections 509(1) and Section 514, comment (a) of the Restatement (Second) of Torts.

 

The Court emphasized that mere ownership of the land where the animal is kept, even with permission to a tenant to keep it there, is not enough to make a landlord a harborer.  Plaintiff argued on appeal that the dog’s presence on the property became a feature of same, and that there was no evidence defendants shifted complete control of the property and its common areas to the tenant.

 

The Court rejected these arguments, stating that they were irrelevant to determining whether the defendants harbored the dog by making it part of their household. Because plaintiff failed to produce evidence proving the defendants harbored the dog, the trial court did not err in entering judgment for the defendants.

 

This ruling is consistent with other Missouri cases, including Mathes v. Nolan, 904 S.W.2d 353 (Mo. App. E.D. 1995) and Barnett v. Rowlette, 879 S.W.2d 543 (Mo. App. W.D. 1994), that have rejected landlord liability for harms caused by a tenant’s dog.  Thus, landlords are usually in a safe position when it comes to harms caused by animals owned by tenants.

 

However, if the landlord has general rules and regulations restricting the pets that tenants may own which apply uniformly to all tenants, they create a duty to enforce those rules, including monitoring compliance by tenants. If a failure to enforce those rules leads to harm caused by a non-complying pet, the landlord, even though not an owner or harborer, may be liable for the harms caused. Tacitek v. Homesfields Gardens Condo. Ass’n, 502 S.W.3d 645 (Mo. Ct. App. 2016).