Landlord Liability for Dog Bite In California

In Portillo v. Aiassa (1994), the plaintiff delivered beer to a liquor store which was open to the general public. As he left the store, a German shepherd dog owned by the tenant, Mr. Kim, attacked the plaintiff, who suffered severe injuries. Plaintiff Portillo sued Kim and the landlord, Aiassa. A jury found that Aiassa did not have actual knowledge of the dog's dangerous propensities before renewing the lease, but that if Aiassa had exercised reasonable care in inspecting his property he would have learned of the dog's dangerous propensities. The jury also found Aiassa negligent in failing to eliminate the dangerous condition. the landlord appealed, claiming the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on a landlord's duty of care. (Portillo v. Aiassa, supra, 27 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 1132-1133.) Portillo cited the rule that a landlord owes a duty of care to a tenant to provide and maintain safe conditions on leased premises. The landlord's duty of care extends to the general public where the lessor leases property for a purpose involving the admission of the public. The landlord's duty of care includes seeing that the property is safe for the purposes intended and exercising reasonable care to inspect and repair the premises before possession is transferred so as to prevent an unreasonable risk of harm to the public who may enter. Furthermore, an agreement to renew a lease cannot relieve the lessor of his duty to see that the premises are reasonably safe at that time. (Portillo v. Aiassa, supra, 27 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1134.) Portillo differs from the case at bench in several ways. The Bank was not the lessor of property where the dog attack occurred. The Bank did not lease that property for a purpose involving admission of the public. The Bank did not renew or relet the property or transfer possession of it pursuant to a lease. Most importantly, the issue in Portillo was the landlord's knowledge of the dangerous condition of the property; the landlord in Portillo did not raise any issue about whether he had the right to have the dog restrained or removed from the premises before the lease was renewed. (Portillo v. Aiassa, supra, 27 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1133, fn. 4.)