Casini v. Chris Anderson Roofing and Erecting

A-6718-97T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: December 23, 1999

LEASES; LANDLORD’S LIABILITY—Absent special circumstances, where a tenant has total control over its premises and the contractual responsibility to make repairs, a landlord is not liable to an individual injured because of a dangerous condition.

A tenant’s employee tripped over stair boards that were uneven and had nails protruding. He sued the landlord for damages attributable to his injury. His employer’s lease clearly indicated that the employer had responsibility for the building’s maintenance and repair. Although the landlord had the right to come into the premises if repairs were needed and to remove signs put up by the tenant the lower court and the Appellate Division held that this a limited right of reentry did not diminish the responsibility of the tenant for repairing the building. In general, at common law a landlord was not liable to a tenant, for physical harm caused by a dangerous condition existing on the land when the tenant took possession. That general rule has been modified over time to make a landlord liable in certain circumstances for injuries resulting from dangerous conditions on the leased premises. The Restatement (Second) of Torts, sets forth five circumstances in which a landlord may be liable: (1) where a lessor contracts to make repairs; (2) where the lessor knows of a dangerous condition on the property but fails to disclose it to the lessee; (3) where the property is leased for purposes involving public admission; (4) where parts of the land are controlled by the lessor, although the lessee is entitled to their use; and (5) where the lessor has been negligent in making repairs. None of these circumstances were present in this case. There was no showing that the dangerous condition existed prior to the signing of the lease. The condition was not concealed, had been not been brought to the landlord’s attention, and the landlord was not charged with notice of any alleged defect. In addition, there was no indication in the record as to when or how the step became defective. Further, the premises comprised office space from which a roofing business was operated, with little or no visitation by the public, so the public-use exception did not apply. The lease also made it clear that the landlord ceded exclusive control of the premises to the tenant. Having found no issue of material fact, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s holding that the landlord was not liable for the injury.