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Tucker v. Rosenstock

A-1109-07T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; LANDLORD’S LIABILITY — There is no basis to impose legal liability on a landlord for a condition within the leased premises of which it is unaware and which is known only to its tenant.

A residential tenant was injured in a fall down a half-flight of stairs after her sock got caught on a nail head protruding from a doorway threshold. In her personal injury action against her landlord, the tenant argued that if the stairwell’s handrail had been properly extended, she could have caught herself before falling. During the proceedings it was revealed that the nail had become loose on two earlier occasions and that the tenant’s husband had nailed it back down each time. It was also revealed that the tenant had never told her landlord of the loose nail and that, according to the lease, the tenant was not to make any repairs to the premises. An expert retained by the tenant testified that the doorway threshold should have been affixed with screws and not by nails, and that there should not have been a threshold for in an interior doorway at the top of the stairs. The expert also testified that the height and extension of the handrail created a hazard and violated municipal building codes. Nonetheless, the lower court found that the landlord did not breach its duty to provide habitable premises and dismissed the action on the landlord’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, the Appellate Division noted that there was no basis to impose legal liability on the landlord for a condition of which he was unaware and which was known only to the tenant. Further, it held that the landlord was liable for the handrail because even if actually defective, the defect was visible to the tenant when she agreed to lease the unit. It affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the tenant’s claim on the basis that the landlord could be held liable for a condition of which he was not informed.

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