If a Pet Owned By a Tenant Injures a Neighbour or Person Passing By the Rental Property Can There Be Any Liability Placed Upon the Landlord?

Where a Landlord Directly or Indirectly Causes or Contributes to Injuries, Such As By a Failure to Maintain a Rental Property, Liability May Be Imposed Upon the Landlord.

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

Lawsuit Document At first glance, It may be surprising to learn that a landlord may be found legally liable when an injury is suffered by a neighbour or a passerby who is a pedestrian or a motorist in an incident that involves an animal owned by a tenant; however, such has occurred; and the applied law, including legal reasoning, was actually quite straightforward.

The Law

The actual case example where this situation has occurred is known as Youssef v. Redi-Mix Limited, 2018 ONSC 6409 (which was reviewed and upheld by Court of Appeal and with leave for appeal to the Supreme Court denied).  What happened within the Youssef case involved Redi-Mix as the property owner and thus landlord of rural premises rented to a tenant.  The tenant, who owned donkeys, was keeping the donkeys upon the rented property and this was known to Redi-Mix. Additionally, Redi-Mix was aware that the tenant was grazing the donkeys upon fenced fields at the rented property. Despite knowing these details, Redi-Mix lacked inspection and repair procedures for the the fences. Subsequently, Mr. Youssef, who was riding a motorcycle on a nearby road, struck a donkey that had escaped through the fence that was improperly maintained by Redi-Mix.  Mr. Youssef brought a lawsuit against Redi-Mix and was successful. In determining liability against Redi-Mix, the court explained:

[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 explained by the court in the Youssef case as provided above, a landlord is statutorily obligated 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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