Adams Stirling PLC


A problem for boards is deciding when a dog is dangerous. For purposes of defining a "vicious" or "dangerous" dog when drafting rules, boards should consider one of the following sample definitions:

Per the CDC, the following breeds were involved in the most dog bite fatalities in the U.S. 1979 - 1998:

Pit Bull - 76
Rottweiler - 44
German Shepherd - 27
Husky-type 21
Malamute - 15
Wolf-dog hybrid - 14
Mixed breed - 12
Chow - 11
Doberman - 10
Great Dane - 8
St. Bernard 8 

1. Any dog that when unprovoked inflicts bites or attacks a human being or domestic animal or in a vicious or terrorizing manner approaches any person in apparent attitude of attack in the association's common areas; or

2.  Any dog with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury or to otherwise endanger the safety of human beings or domestic animals; or

3.  Any dog which engages in, or is found to have been trained to engage in, exhibitions of dog fighting; or

4.  Any dog at large found to attack, menace, chase, display threatening or aggressive behavior or otherwise threaten or endanger the safety of any domestic animal or person.

Condominium associations are particularly vulnerable to aggressive dogs because interior common hallways and elevators bring owners into close contact with dogs. Owners should not have to squeeze against hallway walls to get out of a dog's way or avoid taking an elevator because a 130-pound Rottweiler is on it. Large aggressive dogs can maim and kill in a matter of seconds. Especially vulnerable to attack are the very young and the very old. For the safety of the membership, many associations impose restrictions on the size and breeds of animals.

Pit Bulls. Section 43(a) of the San Francisco Health Code, defines a pit bull as including:

...any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the physical traits of any one or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics that conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club (‘AKC’) or United Kennel Club (‘UKC’) for any of the above breeds.

This language had been upheld in two cases, in which the federal district courts rejected the contention that the language was vague: American Canine Foundation v. Sun (N.D. Cal., Mar. 21, 2007, No. C-06-4713MMC) 2007 WL 878573 at page 9; Coalition of Human Advocates for K9’s and Owners v. City and County of San Francisco (N.D. Cal., Feb. 27, 2007, No. C-06-1887 MMC) 2007 WL 641197, at pages 11-12. 

In Tracey v. Solesky 50 A.3d 1075 (2012), the Maryland Court of Appeals concluded that, "Today, the majority holds that a pit bull or any dog with a trace of pit bull ancestry...shall be deemed hence forth vicious and inherently dangerous as a matter of law." A common definition of pit bull used by California counties is:

“Pit bull” includes any dog that is a Bull Terrier, Miniature Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog that exhibits physical traits of any one or more of the above breeds or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club (“AKC”), United Kennel Club (“UKC”), or American Dog Breeders Association (“ADBA”) for any of the above breeds. These standards are listed on the clubs’ websites.

Although pit bulls can be gentle and don't bite as often as other dogs, when they do attack, the injuries inflicted can be catastrophic. That is because pit bulls have enormous jaw strength and a "hold and shake" bite style that often inflicts permanent and disfiguring injuries. Even though pit bulls only make up 5% of the total U.S. dog population, they dominate in fatal attacks around the country. As a result many governmental agencies restrict dangerous breeds.

As of December 3, 2014, the estimated number of U.S. organizations with with breed-specific laws were as follows: Cities: 860; Counties: 26; States: 37; Military Bases: 292. (See 

Liability for Injuries. In the absence of knowledge of a dog's dangerous propensities, an association is not liable for the injuries inflicted by the dog. Chee v. Amanda Goldt Property Management (2006). However, once a board is on notice that a dog is dangerous, it must take action to protect the membership from the dog or face potential liability for negligence and breach of fiduciary duties.

In March 2002, a jury convicted Marjorie Knoller of second degree murder because her dog mauled to death her neighbor, 33-year-old Diane Whipple, a college lacrosse coach. Whipple was bitten an estimated 77 times and had her neck torn apart. Marjorie Knoller and her husband were also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and owning a "mischievous" animal, for which they were sentenced to 4 years in jail. The Knollers were fully aware of the aggressive tendencies of their dogs.

Prohibiting Aggressive Breeds. Condominium associations are vulnerable to the problem of aggressive dogs because indoor common hallways and elevators bring owners into close contact with dogs. Some associations have banned particular breeds of dogs altogether. This can be done through the adoption of a rule or by amending the CC&Rs.

Other Actions. Other actions that can be taken include requiring (i) aggressive dogs be muzzled, and (ii) limiting the size of dogs (the most common limitation is by weight with the following maximum weights being used most frequently by condominium associations: 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 or 45 pounds).

Owner Liability. The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousnessCivil Code § 3342. In addition to actions against owners for violation of CC&Rs and Rules, owners can be sued for violation of Civil Code § 3342.5 as well as local ordinances.

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

Adams Stirling PLC