The Maryland Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Tracey v. Solesky has put landlords on notice. If there is a pit bull in a rental unit, the landlord now will be running a substantial risk if it does not force the tenant to remove the dog, or evict the dog owner. The Court held that, if someone is attached by a pit bull or a pit bull cross, the plaintiff can establish a prima facie case of negligence merely by proving the breed of the dog, and the fact that the defendant knew or had reason to know that the dog was a pit bull or a cross-bred pit bull. A prima facie case is thereby established not only as to the dog’s owner, but also with regard to any other persons who had the right to control the dog’s presence in the rental unit, such as a landlord who has the right to prohibit such dogs. With this decision, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull dog as known to be dangerous. The dog owner, and the owner’s landlord, can now be held responsible even if the dog had no history of attacking or biting anyone. Prior to this decision, dogs in Maryland were said to have “one free bite,” in that if the dog bit someone and its owner had no knowledge that the dog had a propensity to attack people, the owner was not been responsible for this first violent incident. This rule no longer applies to pit bulls.
With this new “strict liability” rule for pit bulls and pit bull crosses, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which a landlord with knowledge of the law will permit a tenant to have this breed in a housing unit. Likewise, the dog owners themselves are now at substantially higher risk.