Smith v. Young

300 N.J. Super. 82, 692 A.2d 76 (App. Div. 1997)
  • Opinion Date: April 23, 1997

SIDEWALKS; NEGLIGENCE —Generally, homeowners are not liable for injuries resulting from failure to clear their sidewalks. Even though an estate owned one part of a two family home and leased the other part for income, this did not change the character of the use from residential to commercial, and the estate benefitted from the general rule.

Co-owners of a two-family home were sued for damages after a pedestrian fell on ice that had accumulated in front of their property. One co-owner lived on the property in one unit; the other co-owner rented the second unit. The motion judge held that the property was residential, and since residential landowners owe no legal duty to maintain their sidewalks, the case was dismissed. The issue on appeal was whether the property was properly classified as residential or whether it should be considered commercial property since one of the units was rented.

The Appellate Division held the property to be residential and its owners absolved from any duty to maintain the sidewalks. Citing New Jersey Supreme Court decisions, the issue turned on the nature of the ownership and the use to which the property was put. The Court opined that the controlling precedent did not intend to include owner occupied two-family homes within the definition of commercial property. Although one of the owners held the property solely for investment purposes, the nature of the use to which the property was put placed the two-family house clearly within the residential category. The dissenting opinion was based on a belief that categorization is irrelevant and all landowners should be liable for injuries resulting from their negligent failure to clear ice from their sidewalks.