Don’t Get Bitten by Pet Liability

By: Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

Q: What is my liability if my dog bites someone?

A: While each year only about one or two Floridians die from dog bites, some five hundred state residents could go to the hospital with injuries. In what is hopefully not a signal that the legislature thinks dogs are inherently dangerous nuisances, a whole chapter of Florida Statutes covers damage by dogs. Some of the provisions are more unusual than others, such as that it is lawful to kill a dog roaming over the country if that dog is known to have killed sheep. (Please think twice before assuming a loose dog in your neighborhood fits this definition.)

The most talked about provision is the “dog bite statute”, which generally pegs the pet owner with responsibility for his dog biting anyone who is not trespassing. One exception or reduction to the owner’s liability may exist if the bitten person negligently provoked the dog in a way that the person should have known would lead to a bite. Also, where the owner posts a conspicuous sign at his home reading “Bad Dog”, he may be able to limit or eliminate his liability for bites (except where those bites are of children under 6 or where the owner has acted negligently, which could include failure to supervise children). Of course, the owner should not expect to get such protection if he tells his party guests to ignore the yard sign’s warning.

Despite a common misconception otherwise, Florida does not have a “one free bite” rule allowing owners insulation from liability when their dogs have not shown prior dangerous tendencies. However, dogs deemed “dangerous” or under investigation by animal control authorities are subject to heightened standards (that may differ from county to county) and strict criminal penalties for owners of such dogs who do in fact bite.

One final point: reduce your worries by verifying that your homeowner’s insurance covers your dog’s bites.

 

The March 12th edition of “The Law” will cover crafting an effective power of attorney as part of your estate and long-term care plan to help you delegate authority and avoid fraud or misuse of your assets.

Questions can be submitted online to thelaw@clarkcampbell-law.com.]

Toolbox Grows for HOAs with Delinquent Owners

By: Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

Q: How can homeowners’ associations collect assessments while awaiting a first mortgage holder foreclosure?

A: Depressed property values and myriad bank-owned properties have left lenders slow to foreclose. Homeowners may enjoy delay; but, HOAs can lose out on their assessments.

Recent changes in Florida law have altered the assessment collection landscape.

First, an HOA can now foreclose on its lien for unpaid assessments without cutting off a future buyer’s liability for past assessments. Associations now have an incentive to foreclose, take ownership and rent out the premises during the pendency of the first mortgage foreclosure.

Second, associations can now request an “order to show cause” at the outset of the mortgage foreclosure, forcing the court to require the homeowner to show cause for why a foreclosure judgment should not be immediately entered. This change may end up greatly reducing a lender’s delay.

As most associations are aware, associations typically can recover up to 12 months of past assessments from the foreclosing lender if the lender takes title after the foreclosure sale.

Please note, however, that a federal court in January cut off that liability because of lender-friendly language in one association’s governing documents. It is of the utmost importance for associations to review and amend documents as necessary to remove impediments to collecting assessments.

The March 13 edition of “Simply the Law” will cover maximizing homestead exemptions, particularly for senior citizens.

Questions may be submitted online only to simplythelaw@clarkcampbell-law.com.

Occupants Who Don’t Sign the Lease Do So at Their Own Peril

By: Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

A: When entering into a residential lease agreement, tenants may consider having one or more occupants not sign the lease. This issue often arises because tenants think it is unnecessary for all of them to sign, some tenants do not anticipate remaining in the residence for the entire lease term, or because a tenant’s credit may impact his or her ability to be approved. Tenants should consider the legal ramifications and potential costs of signing or not signing the lease.

Each tenant who signs the lease is bound by the terms of the lease and is liable for all rent due under the lease. Tenants who occupy the residence but have not signed the lease may not, depending on the lease terms, be liable for rent. If a non-signing tenant refuses to contribute, the signing tenant is still responsible for the rent, and the landlord is likely to pursue the signing tenant, and not the non-signing tenant, for that rent.

If the lease does not specifically provide that the non-signing tenants may reside in the residence, those tenants may be staying in the residence illegally. If the illegal tenants fail to leave upon the landlord’s demand, the landlord typically has the right to terminate the lease and evict all tenants, regardless of whether they have paid rent.

Finally, a non-signing tenant’s rights to remain in the residence are subject to the rights of the signing tenant. Depending on the lease or other agreements between the parties, the signing tenant may be able to evict the non-signing tenant. Non-signing tenants should consider his or her rights under the lease and whether it would be prudent to enter into a separate agreement with the signing tenant that sets forth the terms upon which the non-signing tenant can stay in the residence.

The February 26th edition of “The Law” will cover Florida dog bite laws and other pet ownership liability issues.