Quick question about the law with respect to dogs

Postulate a building which has been subdivided into several separate units. The building has a fenced and gated yard surrounding it which is understood to be a common area.

The tenants in one unit have a pitt bull who is basically a guard dog. He is aggressive and confrontational and, when leashed in the yard, will lunge at anyone who approaches, inside or outside the fence. He makes no distinction between other tenants that he sees every day, and strangers or intruders.

The dog’s owners begin to let him wander around in the yard loose. (Both day and night.) If a tenant from another unit exits their home and tries to cross the yard to go out the gate, the dog will rush at them, and chase them back inside.

When spoken to about this, the owners say, “He doesn’t have to be on a leash in his own yard.”

This can’t possibly be true? FWIW, the dog’s owners were the last ones to move into the building; and when they did, they didn’t have the dog yet. So there are several people ahead of the dog in line to claim the yard as their own.

p.s. Don’t get me wrong – I love pittbulls, when they are allowed to be their natural sweet selves.

[li]What state is this in?[/li][li]What does your lease state?[/li][li]What are the tenants rights in your state?[/li][li]Does your state have a dangerous dog law?[/li][/ul]

The state is California. Where would I look – in the civil code?

Okay, I found the “dangerous dog laws,” which seem to come into play only if a dog bites or tries to bite someone off the property. ( and does it twice!)

He did bite my bag of laundry once, because the rest of me was already though the gate. (And I don’t even live there, but he sees me all the time.) But it appears that this law is intended for dogs who have already done damage. Surely there is something preventive? Besides, it’s not “his own yard” if it’s a common area?

I will dig more.

Being attacked by a dog is an emergency. The other tenants should call 911 each time it happens.

I wonder if this (PDF) would apply:

It doesn’t sound like the building has any safe exits.

Noho press provides some guidance:


So folks want to leave their home and can’t because of a mean dog in their way?

Setting aside whatever the state or municipal law may be, it sounds way overdue for all the other tenants to have a serious pow-wow with the landlord.

At times, yes. The dog’s actual primary owner is an okay guy, but he’s got this whole macho thing regarding the dog. Perhaps he feels that a guard dog on a six-foot leash is not especially effective at guarding the whole premises. I really don’t know why he didn’t simply introduce the other tenants to the dog as friends, since presumably it’s not them he’s worried about?


Owner of the dog or owner of the building?

Using the owner’s argument, what if you hypothetically killed this animal during an attack because it attacked you while you were in your own yard? Would he be okay with that because it is a common area after all so it’s your yard too. Usually common areas are within the purview of either a condo association or landlord and they should be in a position to take action against a tenant or unit owner harboring a potentially vicious and/or dangerous animal.

Check with the landlord. As an example, I live in a gated courtyard building. It’s not stated in the leases, but my landlord has sent letters under everyone’s doors and posted in the common areas (i.e. each lobby and the laundry room) that dogs must be leashed at all times, and that excrement must be picked up, bagged, and placed in a garbage receptacle at the time of the dog’s producing it. Anyone found not in compliance will not have their lease renewed and may be subject to fines.

It’s up to the landlord to have a talk with this dog owner, unless the other tenants are willing to get together and talk to him as a group. But really, differences between tenants are usually best left to the landlord as a mediator if at all possible.

Personally, if I were to walk out into my courtyard and encounter an aggressive off-leash dog? I would not hesitate for a second to pepper spray that dog. I have every right to protect myself if I feel I’m in danger, and I carry a big can of the stuff.

From the California Civil Code:

You might want to make the owner aware that he’s liable if the dog bites someone, regardless of the fact that the dog is in a fenced area.

It seems to me that the real issue is the right to use a common area. By keeping a dangerous dog in the yard, he has made it impossible for anyone else to use it. He is depriving the tenants of something they are paying for. Even if he’s not violating the law, he’s violating your rights. That is, I think the best way to approach this is as a civil matter, not a criminal one.

I agree with Senegoid that you and the other tenants should talk to the landlord. I would think any decent landlord would want to fix this problem.

It sounds like you move up the progression tree, landlord first, then if that does not work 911 (possibly animal control also, I believe in CA they have police powers and can take the animal for the good of the animal) while recruiting other tenants in this cause.

The macho statement seems like this guy is asserting himself illegitimately to spread fear, the power to stop him and put him back in his place seems to be already in place.

Good luck.

Since this is a request for legal advice, it is best suited to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

One “t” in pit bull, by the way.

This is unusual behavior in a pit bull; typically they’re very fond of strangers and not particularly territorial (an old saying goes “a pit bull defends only the ground under his four feet.”)

If the “owner” won’t control the dog because you asked, or for the dog’s own safety, animal control should be able to fix the situation; that’s exactly the sort of thing they specialize in. Call them and keep calling them until you get satisfaction.

I wonder of the outcome if each tenant other than the dog owner started putting 1/3 of their rent money in an escrow account until they gain use of the currently denied common area?

You wonder the outcome if some renters decided to not pay all of their rent? Not good for the renters, that’s for sure.

You don’t have to involve the landlord first. Just call animal control. It will help to have video of the dog’s behavior when someone enters the grassy area.

I had a friend who had a neighbor who let their dogs run in a pack at night. Despite many complaints, destruction of my friend’s door by a dog that tried to dig its way through it, and the dog killed one of her cats, animal control did nothing. The dog actually had to attack and bite a person before animal control would do something. Apparently, she could shoot the dog if it came on her property if she had cattle, but people? Actually had to be bit.

My friend had to sell her house and move to get away from it.

You may want to consider your options if you can’t do anything about the dog.