Legal Notes-A refresher: City of Charleston leash law

For every golf cart or minivan on Daniel Island, there is a family pet – typically a dog or cat. As I write this article, our family dog (Cooper) is sitting at my feet. While mostly a rewarding aspect of life, living in an urban environment with a pet can present challenges and, of course, rules about keeping the family pet.

Unfortunately, there are occurrences where family pets attack other pets, people or cause damage. What rules govern the family pet (outside the home) and what can happen should there be an unfortunate occurrence?

With authority and direction from the State of South Carolina (S.C. Code Ann. § 47-3-20), the City of Charleston has specific ordinances about keeping pets. Of note are the following – Ordinance 5-4 provides in pertinent part “no person ... shall ... allow the animal to stray or in any manner to run at large ... if such animal is not under a physical restraint or a leash ... the length of a leash shall not be more than (16) sixteen feet long.” This is generally referred to as the “leash law.”

The ordinance further provides “[w]hen any animal destroys or damages any property, attacks, threatens to attack, or interferes with any person in any manner, becomes a nuisance, or strays onto the private property of another, there shall be a presumption of law that the animal was not under a physical restraint or a leash.”

The City of Charleston maintains a division of law enforcement to police these ordinances and they will issue citations to pet owners who are not compliant. Like traffic-type offenses, these are strict liability offenses and thus excuses, even reasonable excuses, do not always offer a defense. Thus, should a child leave your fence gate open affording the family dog an opportunity to escape, then you could be cited.

The past couple years on Daniel Island have seen more unfortunate and serious occurrences of dogs attacking other dogs and sometimes people. Please note the portion of the ordinance cited above, specifically a pet attacking another pet or person creates a presumption the pet was not properly restrained. In other words, as the pet owner it will be your burden to prove your pet was restrained and/or on a leash. Sometimes this can be onerous.

In addition to possible criminal sanctions imposed by the City of Charleston, the pet owner can be subject to civil liability. In the event you find yourself involved in a situation where your pet may be the culprit of damage to another, then immediately contact your homeowners and/or renters insurance policy carrier. While each policy is different, some policies may provide coverage or at least an attorney to represent you.

In conclusion, your family pet is essentially an extension of you. Thus, any harm or damage caused by your family pet can be imputed to you, via a criminal citation and civil liability.

While pets are animals and will sometimes act like animals, some neighborly mindfulness will usually avoid any unfortunate circumstances.

Chris Mingledorff and Michael Patterson are attorneys and partners at Daniel Island law firm, Mingledorff & Patterson LLC. For more information, go online to or call 843-471-1015.

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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