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Wright v. Ahmed

A-5851-08T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNER LIABILITY — A landowner is not liable to a tenant who has complete control and possession of the property unless the landowner concealed or failed to disclose a condition which involves an unreasonable risk of harm in a situation where the tenant does not know or have reasons to know of the condition or risk involved and where the landlord knows or has reason to know of the condition and has reason to expect that the tenant would not discover the condition or realize the risk involved.

A landlord had several trees removed from the backyard of his rental property. Several years later, the landlord leased the property to a couple pursuant to a written month-to-month lease. The lease required the tenants to inspect the property before moving in and to provide the landlord with a list of all defective and damaged items. The lease also required the tenants to be responsible for maintaining the lawn. The tenants did not inspect the backyard before moving in and provided no evidence as to the condition of the property when they moved in. Three weeks after they moved in, the husband mowed the lawn for the first time and discovered that there were tree stumps in the backyard that prevented him from mowing parts of the lawn. The husband advised his wife about the tree stumps. Later that day, the wife kicked a ball into the high grass area where the husband could not mow. Although she was aware that there were tree stumps, she ran for the ball without looking down, tripped on a tree stump, and injured her leg, ankle, and knee.

The lower court granted the landlord’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and the tenants appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed. The tenants argued that, pursuant to the Restatement (Second) of Torts, the landlord owed them a duty because he removed the tree but allowed the stump to remain and allowed grass to grow above it. However, the Court disagreed. It noted that according to the Restatement, a landlord is liable if: (a) it conceals or fails to disclose a condition which involves an unreasonable risk of harm; (b) the tenant does not know or have reasons to know of the condition or risk involved; and (c) the landlord knows or has reason to know of the condition and had reason to expect that the tenant would not discover the condition or realize the risk involved.

In this case, the landlord had no reason to believe that the tenants would not see the tree stumps and the tenant had reason to know of the tree stumps. The Court noted that the landlord had mowed the lawn before the tenants moved in and the tenants were required to inspect the property before moving in. The Court found that the tenants did not prove that the tree stump was not plainly visible when they moved in. Further, it found that, without a description of the height of the tree stump, no jury could conclude that the tree stump was obscured by anything other than the grass that the tenants failed to mow for three weeks. Lastly, the Court found that the tenants were aware of the tree stump. The husband found the tree stump as he was mowing the lawn and he advised his wife, who nonetheless ran into the backyard without looking.


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