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Lopez v. Ayende

A-4442-03T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

LEASES; LANDLORD’S LIABILITY—A tenant’s choice of how to utilize its leased premises, even if a continuation of the way its landlord had previously used the space, is not a defect in the premises and does not create liability on the part of the landlord.

A property had been used by its owner for many years as a car wash. Then, the owner leased the premises for continued operation as a car wash, a permitted use under the lease. The tenant, like its landlord before it, “had its employees dry and clean cars in the driveway, which was bounded on either side by sidewalk, after the cars left the inside washing area.” Two cars crashed at the adjacent intersection. One of the cars came into the driveway and it injured an employee of the car wash. The employee sought to hold the landlord responsible for maintaining a “dangerous condition” on the property, specifically by designating the area between the sidewalks for the drying of cars. The Court rejected all of the injured employee’s arguments, eventually holding that “[e]ven if a method of operation were to be considered a defect in the premises, in the circumstances of this case, responsibility for the defect would not be that of the landlord.” The Court found that “the tenant was free to use the space leased for any purpose. Its choice of using the space as a car wash and adopting the methods previously employed by the landlord [did] not create liability on the part of the landlord.”

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