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Sherlotti v. Hibbets

A-2612-03T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD’S LIABILITY—The longstanding rule of law as it applies to patent defects is that, absent an exception to the rule, a landlord is not liable for injuries sustained by its tenant or the tenant’s invitee by reason of the ruinous condition of the premises unless there has been fraudulent concealment of a latent defect.

A tenant leased a single family residence. About eight months after the start of the lease, “a large tree branch from a dead tree fell on [the tenant] while he was playing in the front yard with his dog.” Allegedly he suffered back injuries necessitating surgery. He sued the landlord, asserting his “landlord breached his duty of care to repair a dangerous condition existing on the property by not removing the dead tree.” He claimed that he and his wife discussed the dead tree with the landlord before executing the lease and again afterwards. He also claimed that the landlord agreed to remove it.

The lease was a pre-printed “boilerplate” lease. It required the “tenant to keep and maintain the house and grounds in a neat, clean and safe condition (emphasis added) and ... require[d] [tenant] to properly notify landlord when there [were] conditions that needed repair.” According to the lease, the landlord was obligated to “repair and replace vital facilities serving the house (emphasis added).” “The longstanding rule of law as it applies to patent defects ... is that a landlord is not liable for ‘injuries sustained by the tenant or the tenant’s invitee by reason of ruinous condition of the demised premises unless there has been fraudulent concealment of a latent defect.” Therefore, even if the landlord had notice of the dead tree, he would not have been liable to the tenant unless one of the exceptions to the general rule applied. Those exceptions are “where the lessor contracts to repair” or “where parts of the land are controlled by the lessor, although the lessee is entitled to their use.” Neither exception applied in this case and the tenant’s suit against his landlord failed as a matter of law.


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