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Out-of-possession landlords face increased exposure for premises liability claims

Xiang Fu He v. Troon Management, Inc.

The plaintiff filed suit for injuries sustained when he fell on ice that had accumulated on a sidewalk. Defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that out-of-possession landlords are not liable for injuries resulting from the failure to remediate ice and snow. In opposition, the plaintiff relied upon Section 7-210 of New York City’s Administrative Code which states “It shall be the duty of the owner of real property abutting any sidewalk…to maintain such sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition.”  The trial court denied defendants motions.

On appeal, this decision was reversed by the First Department. The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal the First Department’s decision.

The Court of Appeals concluded that Section 7-210 applies equally to out-of-possession landlords noting the Code provision “applies to every ‘owner of real property abutting any sidewalk’ and makes no distinction fort those owners who are out of possession.”

The acknowledged that prior to this provision, the City was liable for injuries caused by the failure to properly maintain a sidewalk and that this provision “was enacted for the purpose of transferring tort liability from the City to certain adjoining property owners as a cost-saving measure.”

Lex lata: This decision cuts into a well-established defense for property owners and for an out-of-possession landlord, a valid and enforceable indemnity agreement with a tenant or snow removal contractor is key. As it is now harder to dismiss this type of claim,  being able to transfer the exposure is paramount.

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