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Pit Bull Ruling is Set-Back for Maryland


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By Carolyn Kilborn - Posted on 30 April 2012

On April 26, 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a decision in the case of Tracey v. Solesky.  The court ruled that in a dog attack involving a pit bull or a pit bull cross, the owner or other persons (including a landlord) who have the right to control a pit bull’s presence on a premises, is liable for damages caused by the dog. 

Maryland Votes for Animals is disappointed by the decision of the court.  While this decision does not ban ownership or keeping of pit bulls in Maryland, it creates a difficult environment for people with pit bulls or with dogs who look like pit bulls.  <--break->

Maryland Votes for Animals is concerned about the impact of this decision on the majority of pit bills and pit bull mixes who are friendly, well-behaved, family dogs. It will be a tragedy if shelters and rescues stop adopting out friendly pit bulls and pit bull mixes, and if people with pit bulls and pit bull mixes give up well-tempered dogs because of a fear of liability issues, or because of pressure from landlords.  We are concerned about the negative impact this decision will have on dogs whose only offense is their breed or simply because they resemble what people think pit bulls look like. 

Maryland Votes for Animals is taking a leading role in working with local, state, and national organizations to develop a coordinated legislative response to overturn this decision.  Dangerous dog legislation should be based on a dog’s behavior, not the dog’s breed. 

There is no breed of dog proven to be inherently dangerous.  Any type of dog can bite people.  Dog bites are serious but the number of bite cases is low relative to the huge number of dogs in the United States.

There is no reliable method for determining what dogs qualify as pit bulls and pit bull mixes.  Using a dog’s shape or appearance to determine breed is highly unreliable.

In the meantime, the Humane Society of the United States offers the following advice to people who are caring for pit bulls in Maryland:

       “Renters who currently own a pit bull or pit bull mix should contact attorneys licensed in Maryland with any questions or concerns regarding their specific situations.

       "In general, a landlord cannot change a lease to ban pit bulls before the lease term expires. A lease is a contract, and under Maryland law the landlord may not change the terms of the lease without your consent for the remainder of the lease term. If your lease has an automatic renewal clause, the landlord must notify you of a rent increase or any other change with enough notice for you to decide whether you want to renew or not. If your lease does not automatically renew, you should be sure to thoroughly read the new lease you will sign for any prohibition against dogs that may constitute a pit bull.

       "Options for renters with pit bulls will likely begin to be more difficult to find. For tips for finding pet friendly rental properties, go here: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/animal_friendly_apartments.html.

       "In general, if a tenant breaches the terms of a lease agreement, a landlord may evict him or her. However, the landlord must go to court and obtain an eviction judgment first.  Also, state law requires the landlord to first give the tenant one month's advance notice that he is ending the lease and the reason why. However, if the breach of lease involves tenant behavior that constitutes a danger to other people or property, the landlord must only give 14 days advance notice. Therefore, if a tenant with a pit bull or pit bull mix has a lease that is about to expire, he or she should review the new lease for any changes, as there may be a short time frame in which to make moving arrangements.

       "If a tenant does not have a written lease or does not know whether it’s in effect, he or she should be aware that a landlord is required to use a written lease if the tenancy is going to be for a year or longer, or if the landlord owns five or more rental units in the State.  If a lease is to last more than a year, it must be written to be enforceable. If you have an oral agreement your landlord must still give proper written notice before any changes to the terms of an oral lease”

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