Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pit Bulls and Landlords

Maryland has declared pit bulls to be inherently dangerous and places liability for damages from pit bull attacks not only on the dogs' owners, but also on landlords. It is this last claim that I find interesting. Set aside the question of pit bull as a natural kind term (whether there is a well-defined type of dog picked out by the term "pit bull") and set aside whether there is, in fact, an inherent danger posed by all members of the group if well-defined. For the sake of argument, let's grant these points. Surely, the owner should be responsible. But why the landlord? On the one hand, it is the responsibility of the landlord to maintain a safe space in public areas that s/he owns. If pit bulls are inherently dangerous, then allowing them in their properties is creating a public hazard and for that we should hold the landlord responsible for any mishaps that could have been foreseen and prevented. On the other hand, it is not the possession of the landlord, but of the tenant that is at fault. If the landlord does not choose to own the dog, why should s/he be held responsible for the ramifications of something that s/he does not possess? If a tenant's child attacks someone, we would not hold the landlord responsible, even if there was reason to consider the child an inherent threat. Is there really a difference here? So, should landlords be party to this responsibility?