Important information for Maryland dog owners

In an effort to help dog owners understand the ruling that the Maryland Court of Appeals issued, and subsequently modified, I reached out to B-More Dog to find out what we can do to help. B-More is an organization based out of Baltimore, MD, and they have played an important role in rallying the troops and mounting the opposition to the Court’s ruling which holds that “purebred pit bulls” are inherently dangerous.

At this time, B-More is focusing their efforts on the Armistead Gardens neighborhood, as the leasing office has issued notices advising that, effective immediately, all pit bulls and pit bull mixes are banned. The notice goes on to inform residents that, “The Board may take legal action, including termination against lease holders, if they fail to comply with the ban.”

Armistead Gardens has about 1500 residents, and it is estimated that about a third of those have dogs that would be affected by the ban. B-More is distributing a flyer to the Armistead residents that highlight renters rights and provides information and contacts for low cost or free legal and other resources.

In addition, the Maryland Animal Law Center is working to assist residents, and is filing an injunction to suspend enforcement of the leasing office’s ban until the General Assembly can act at its next session in January.

Obviously, the residents of Armistead Gardens are devastated at the thought of losing their pets, and B-More is trying to encourage residents to take some time to read their leases and see what options exist rather than dropping off their family pets at the shelter in a panic. The mass surrender of dogs would be a nightmare for the Baltimore shelter, and is, of course, what everyone involved is trying to prevent from happening.

B-More is also working to remind people that the Court’s ruling is not a ban on pit bulls, but an extension of strict liability to landlords. The ruling does not require landlords to take action, and some landlords may not react to the ruling. They are also encouraging renters to take the time to review their leases. If residents are not in violation of their current lease, they should be protected until that lease needs to be renewed.

Important points from the flyer being distributed to Armistead Gardens residents:

The highest court in Maryland has declared that all “purebred pit bulls” are “inherently dangerous,” meaning owners of these dogs and their landlords can be held financially liable for any damage the dog causes as a result of a bite or attack. Unfortunately, the Maryland state legislature failed to protect its constituents by passing a stop-gap measure during a special legislative session this summer, and now there will not be another opportunity to address it legislatively until January 2013.

The Court limited its ruling to “purebred pit bull” dogs, which may provide limited relief to owners of mixed breed dogs, which are not considered inherently dangerous under the Court’s ruling. Owners of mixed breed dogs will be subject to the same liability rules as all other dogs. Although ultimately your landlord can still choose to exclude all dogs from the property, having proof that your dog is not a “purebred pit bull” might, in some cases, help forestall or delay your eviction.

Know your rights. Regardless of the type of dog you have, your landlord cannot just show up and force either you or your dog out. Landlords have to follow laws, give you notice, and go through the legal process to remove tenants or tenants’ pets. In this case, the legal process could be as short as 14 days, but it could take weeks and months, so its important to be prepared and informed.

Read your lease or homeowners insurance policy carefully. Contracts like leases cannot be changed without both sides agreeing, unless there is already language in the document that allows the change.

Do not delay. If your landlord threatens you with eviction or a change to your lease, act quickly to preserve all of your rights and protections. And remember, finding a new rental property that allows dogs may become more difficult thanks to the ruling, so if you anticipate moving, don’t wait until the last minute to begin looking for a new place.

Obtain legal advice. For personal legal advice, contact an attorney licenses in Maryland. An attorney can advise you about alternate legal protections that might be available like the Fair Housing Act, which is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If you cannot afford to contact an attorney, here are some additional resources:

District Court of Maryland’s Self-Help Center: The District Court of Maryland launched a chat service last year, where anyone may chat online with an attorney for free: http://www.courts.state.md.us/district/selfhelpcenter/home.html

The Maryland People’s Law Library: This website is maintained by the Maryland State Law Library and has many articles about Landlord/Tenant law (http://peoples-law.org/categories/4482/2) as well as a list of reduced cost and free legal services (http://peoples-law.org/directory).

Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc.
2530 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
410-243-6007 hit 0 twice to get to a live person.
The Landlord/Tenant Hotline is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
http://www.bni-maryland.org/

The Lawyer Referral and Information Service
410-539-3112
http://www.baltimorebar.org/lris/need_a_lawyer.html
Offers reduced cost legal aid for those who qualify. Once a person qualifies and the case is
evaluated and accepted, the reduced fee is $75/hour.

University of Baltimore Law Clinic
1415 Maryland Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201
410-837-5709
Offers free legal services provided by law students

The Legal Aid Bureau
500 East Lexington Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
http://www.mdlab.org
main: 410-951-7777 or 1-800-999-8904

Cherry Hill Neighborhood Center
606 Cherry Hill Road
Baltimore, MD 21225
Phone: (410) 355-4223

http://www.mdlab.org

Tenant Advocacy
Public Justice Center
1 North Charles Street, Suite 200
Baltimore, MD 21201
410-625-9409, then press 235
Mon-Fri, intake from 9-5pm

Civil Justice
520 W. Fayette St
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
410-706-0174
Press 1 and leave a message for an intake coordinator

The flyer in its entirely can be found here.

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One response to “Important information for Maryland dog owners

  1. Can the landlord have them all sign a release of liability form so that the dog owner will know that they are the only ones to be held liable if something were to happen with their dog. Then post a sign warning anyone who enters the property that Landlord is not held liable due to signed release.

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