New York landlords may be surprised to find that their tenants have a right to sue (and recover damages) due to losses sustained in certain common areas of their buildings. Landlords must therefore adequately maintain common areas and avoid creating a situation in which a tenant is likely to “blame” them for losses.
Of course, litigation cannot always be avoided. In the event that you are made a defendant in a tenant lawsuit, it’s important that you understand the basic legal issues surrounding common area liability.
Let’s take a look.
In New York, common areas of a building are subject to the warranty of habitability, which requires that tenants be provided reasonably safe, livable,and clean environments. If the landlord fails to adhere to this duty, then affected tenants may have a right to terminate their lease early and potentially sue for damages.
What is considered reasonably safe, livable, and clean is dependent on the circumstances. For example, it would be absurd for a tenant to claim that they have a right to terminate their lease early simply because the common area hallway has a single broken light bulb that has only been broken for one day.
There are a number of different defenses that the landlord can assert to avoid or minimize liability for common area maintenance issues.
If the landlord did not know (or could not have reasonably known) about a particular unsafe, unclean, or unlivable condition in the common area, then you cannot be held liable for related losses. This knowledge requirement is highly dependent on the circumstances, however. The landlord has a duty to inspect the premises in reasonably frequent intervals. Failure to inspect (and thus discover problematic conditions) could expose the landlord to liability.
In New York, tenants that create an uninhabitable condition cannot then turn around and argue that the landlord is responsible for violating the warranty of habitability. If the tenant created the condition (i.e., tenant drunkenly destroyed the lighting fixtures in a common area), then they are responsible for correcting it.
The landlord is not an absolute guarantor of perfection. Common areas may be habitable even if there are small imperfections, such as minor cracks, or leaks.
Here at Griffin Alexander, P.C., our team of attorneys boasts several decades of combined experience representing residential and commercial landlords in various disputes with their tenants, including those that involve substantial tenant losses that occur in a building’s common area.
We have extensively litigated claims relating to complicated issues of New York landlord tenant law and are more than capable of aggressively advocating on your behalf at various administrative and trial proceedings. If you’re interested in learning more about how to proceed, we encourage you to call (973) 366-1188 or request an appointment online — a skilled attorney here at Griffin Alexander, P.C. will evaluate your case and work with you to develop a plan moving forward.
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