Kuzmicz v. Ivy Hill Park Apartments, Inc.

147 N.J. 510, 688 A.2d 1018 (1997)
  • Opinion Date: February 20, 1997

LEASES; NEGLIGENCE—A landlord is not liable for criminal activity on adjacent premises that it does not own, control or receive a significant benefit from.

A tenant was injured when assaulted on a vacant lot adjacent to the apartment complex where he lived. The lot was between the complex and a grocery store and provided a short cut to the store. Several years earlier, landlord had erected a fence at the border with the lot, and had made numerous repairs to the fence since then. Several assaults had taken place on the lot. The administrator of the apartment complex knew that residents used this short cut and had written several letters to the owner of the lot complaining of the criminal activity thereon, as well as vandalism to the fence. The injured tenant sued both his landlord and the owner of the lot. Landlord’s summary judgment motion was denied by the trial court, which held that issues of material fact were present and a jury could reasonably conclude that landlord’s failure to maintain the fence constituted breach of duty to the tenants to provide a safe exit from its property, and that this negligence may have been a proximate cause of tenant’s injuries. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that the landlord had a duty to protect tenants from criminal activity on the lot or close the hole in the fence. The Supreme Court granted landlord’s petition for certification.

The Supreme Court stated the issue to be whether it was fair, just or good public policy to impose a duty on the tenant’s landlord. The Court stated that although a landlord is generally not liable for off-premises injuries merely because those injuries are foreseeable, a landlord’s liability may extend beyond the premises for activities that directly benefit the landlord. However, a landlord does not owe a duty to protect people from criminal activity on adjacent premises that the landlord does not own, control or receive a significant commercial benefit from. Finding no precedent or statutory authority, the Court held that the landlord did not owe a duty to its tenant to mend the fence or warn of the possibility of criminal assault on the lot. The Court further stated that requiring a landlord to compensate its tenant in such a case discourages people from owning property in urban areas.