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Noriega v. TMC Properties, LLC

2005 WL 2896942 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

LEASES; STRUCTURES—Friction treads, though permanently attached to stairs, are not capital improvements nor are they part of the structural elements of a building.

A tenant’s employee “was walking down a set of interior concrete steps when she slipped and fell and injured herself. Friction treads had been affixed to the steps to make them safer; [the woman] alleged that one of those treads came off as she stepped on it, causing her to fall.” She sued her employer’s landlord. Her employer rented the entire building and its lease dealt with the landlord’s and the tenant’s obligations for repair and maintenance. Generally, the landlord was responsible for exterior areas and structural elements whereas the tenant was responsible for the rest of the building. A specific provision of the lease stated that the “Tenant will not be required to make any structural changes to the Premises or any capital improvements thereto if such would be required of any user of the Premises, Landlord being responsible for any such structural changes or capital improvements.” The woman argued that “once the friction treads were glued in place to the treads of the stairway, they became part of the structure of the building and were thus encompassed within the landlord’s scope of responsibility.” The lower court and the Appellate Division rejected the woman’s “contention that these friction stair threads became part of the structure when they were affixed to the stairs.” It also rejected the woman’s “alternative argument, that these friction stair treads should [have been] considered capital improvements and, thus, encompassed by the landlord’s responsibility.” The woman cited a portion of the New Jersey Administrative Code which defines a capital improvement as “an installation of tangible personal property which results in an increase of the capital value of the real property or significant increase in the useful life of such property.” She also pointed to a separate section of the New Jersey Administrative Code “which provides that ‘installation of floor covering results in a capital improvement only where the floor covering is permanently affixed to a subfloor.’” The claim was that the friction stair treads served “to extend the useful life of the concrete steps and [were] permanently affixed to the steps.” Based on those contentions, she argued that the friction treads qualified as a capital improvement. The Court held that the injured read “too much into these regulatory provisions.” The cited provisions dealt with the parameters for applying sales tax and, according to the Court, they had “little, if any, applicability to the present controversy.” Essentially, the friction stair treads “constituted ordinary repair and maintenance and [it] was the duty of [the] tenant” to maintain them.

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