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Gooding v. Tapia

A-1739-03T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ATTACHED BUILDINGS—Absent an agreement to the contrary, the owner of part of a duplex property has no duty to the other owner to join together to repair both roofs at the same time and it is unreasonable for the other owner to expect that such an agreement will be reached.

Two property owners each owned one half of a duplex building. Their units were separated by a party wall. One owner obtained an estimate for a new roof for the building because the current roof was leaking and causing damage to the interior of her unit. The home goods store that gave the estimate was not willing to do just one-half of the roof, so it quoted for replacement of the entire roof. The owner asked the other owner if she would split the cost of the roof. The second owner refused because her part of the roof was not leaking. Eventually, the first owner was able to find a contractor that was able to repair just her side of the roof. She then sued her neighbor, alleging that the neighbor’s refusal to cooperate in the roof repair caused damage to the interior of her unit.

The lower court agreed that the neighbor’s refusal to cooperate delayed the repair and caused damage to the other’s property. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that there was no evidence that the second owner’s failure to repair her half of the roof or to cooperate in the repair of the roof, as a whole, caused the damage to the interior of the first owner’s home. The Court pointed out that the first owner was able to get her part of the roof repaired without the second owner’s cooperation. Absent an agreement, easement or statutory duty, a property owner owes no duty to an owner of adjacent property other than to use his or her property reasonably so as to avoid injuring a neighbor. Therefore, because there was no evidence that the second owner prevented the first owner from repairing her roof or otherwise injuring her property, the Court reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that the second owner was not responsible for the damage done to the interior of the first owner’s unit while the complaining neighbor tried to work out an arrangement to repair the entire roof.


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