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Jackson v. Plotnick

A-515-99T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2000) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; LANDLORD LIABILITY—Absent some other consideration, a landlord is not liable to a tenant for an injury caused by a preexisting defect known to the tenant.

A tenant of one unit of a side-by-side duplex fell from outside steps that did not have a railing. In fact, there had never been a handrail on the steps in question. The tenant contended that its landlord breached its duty to her by not installing a railing along the steps. It was undisputed that this two-unit dwelling was constructed prior to the adoption of the BOCA code in New Jersey. Also, it was clear that it was not a multiple dwelling within the meaning of the Hotel and Multiple Dwelling Law. In fact, there was no applicable statute or regulation that could arguably have required installation of a handrail on those steps. In addition, the lease did not require the landlord to install a handrail. While a landlord has an obligation to repair or replace “vital facilities,” the Court held that even if the rear steps were properly considered a vital facility, “installation of a handrail that had not previously existed is neither a repair nor a replacement.” In addition, a landlord’s retention of the right of reentry and its obligation to make repairs does not constitute continuing control over the premises sufficient to make a landlord responsible for the handrails. “A landlord is not an insurer of his tenant’s safety. ... The duty to the tenant arises under certain specified circumstances, none of which are present in this case.” The absence of the railing was obvious and it preexisted the tenancy. The stairs were not a common element under landlord’s control.

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