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Briglia v. Mondrian Mortgage Corporation

304 N.J. Super. 77, 698 A.2d. 28 (App. Div. 1997)

MORTGAGES; SIDEWALKS; LIABILITY—A mortgagee in possession of vacant residential property is not a commercial landowner for the purposes of imposing sidewalk liability.

A first mortgagee was in the process of foreclosing upon an abandoned parcel of residential property when a local resident slipped on ice that had accumulated on the sidewalk abutting the premises. He sued the mortgage company, the prior tenant, and the prior tenants’ insurance carrier. The judge granted summary judgment against the injured pedestrian. The pedestrian appealed, claiming that the property was commercial and that the mortgage company was a commercial user and owner of the property, and therefore liable for damages.

The prior owner was not held liable because New Jersey sidewalk liability law states that owners of residential property are not liable for injuries to pedestrians for failure to remove accumulated snow or ice. On the other hand, commercial landowners are responsible for maintaining sidewalks in reasonably good condition and are liable to injured pedestrians if the owner fails to remove snow or ice. In this case, the Appellate Division held that a mortgagee in possession of vacant residential property is not a commercial landowner for purposes of imposing sidewalk liability. The Court found that being a mortgagee in possession alone did not make the mortgage company a commercial landowner. The Court cited a prior holding that a vacant lot zoned for commercial use was not considered commercial property for purposes of sidewalk liability. Accordingly, the vacant residential lot in this case was also found not to be commercial property. The Court then stated that the mortgage company was not a commercial user of the property since it did not conduct daily business on the property and there were no employees on the lot to monitor the necessity for snow and ice removal. Additionally, since there had not yet been a foreclosure judgment, the mortgage company was not even the owner of the property at the time of the accident.


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