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Patti v. Spicuzzo

A-1031-99T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2000) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; LANDLORD LIABILITY—Absent a statutory repair duty, where a tenant in aware of a dangerous condition that preceded its tenancy, its landlord is not liable for the tenant’s injury resulting therefrom.

A tenant rented the first floor of a two-family house. One night, the tenant, while searching for the bathroom door, mistakenly opened the basement door and fell down the steps. There was no light in the hallway outside the two doors, and the railings leading down to the basement failed to comply with the applicable building codes. The tenant, however, was well aware of the lack of light and the deficient railings, and in fact, those conditions preexisted the tenancy. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the landlord, “because the problems with the lights and the railing occurred in the space rented by [the tenant] were in an area completely within [the tenant’s] control.” New Jersey follows the Restatement (Second) of Torts which “holds a lessor free of liability where a patent, dangerous condition existed at the time the lessees took possession of the premises.” The fact that the tenant’s expert engineer concluded that the lack of illumination in the hall and the condition of the basement stairs both presented hazards did not mean that the landlord had a duty to repair them. Since the landlord had no duty to repair, the lower court concluded that “there was no genuine issue of fact,” and the landlord was entitled to summary judgment in its favor.

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