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Are out-of-possession landlords liable for slippery sidewalks?

Winter is coming, and New Yorkers can expect weather ranging from freezing rain to sleet and snow. It’s a season for warm scarves and jackets. And for the city’s landlords, it’s a season that demands diligent maintenance.

According to the New York City Administrative Code, landlords and other property owners need to keep their sidewalks reasonably safe. If they knowingly leave their sidewalks buried under snow and ice, they can be held liable for any resulting injuries. But what if those owners don’t live in the building? What if they contract with someone to maintain the property?

New York Supreme Court offers final ruling on a slip-and-fall case

The issue of out-of-possession landlords’ liability recently found its way to the New York Supreme Court. As the New York Law Journal reported, the case started when a man slipped and fell outside of a building owned by Troon Management. Troon argued that it wasn’t liable because it was an out-of-possession landlord and its lease required the tenant to maintain the sidewalk.

The question put before the Supreme Court was whether an out-of-possession landlord, who had effectively given control of the building to its tenant, could still be held liable.

There are certain cases in which out-of-possession owners are not liable for the condition of their property. And the New York State Supreme Court – Queens County had previously written that out-of-possession owners were not liable unless they were:

  • Contractually obligated to make repairs
  • Contracted to maintain the premises
  • Reserving a contractual right to enter the property for inspections and repairs

Troon argued that because it had left the building and didn’t have any of these contractual obligations, it couldn’t be held liable for the victim’s injuries. However, the Supreme Court disagreed. It said that Troon’s contract with its tenant didn’t impact its liability. The law placed liability for sidewalk maintenance squarely with the owner listed on the deed. That liability couldn’t be shifted.

Does the owner always have to pay?

Although owners cannot escape the liability assigned to them by the law, the Supreme Court pointed out they might not always have to pay the costs. For example, if a tenant agreed to maintain the property, that tenant could also indemnify the owner in case of any resulting liability. In this case, the tenant might be forced to pay, even if the owner remains liable.

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