Lease Drafting Integral to Determining Whether Landlord or Tenant Bears Liability for Customer’s Slip and Fall

February 11, 2013

JCPenney Parking Lot Common areas of rental properties are often locations that receive a considerable amount of coverage in commercial leases. Tenants and landlords alike should make certain they understand the provisions in their leases with regard to common areas, as the terms they agree to in the lease may make the difference between tenant or landlord liability when a customer slips, falls, and injures him or herself on the property’s common area.

A case from late last year highlights the importance of careful lease drafting. Arlene Kandrac fell after tripping over an even area in the parking lot outside Marrazzo’s Market in Robbinsville, NJ. The market was one of 36 stores in the Shoppes at Foxmoor. Kandrac sued both the Marrazzos and the landlord, Foxmoor Associates, LLC. The tenant and the landlord both argued that the other was solely liable for the shopper’s injuries.

The court in Kandrac v. Marrazzo’s Market at Robbinsville concluded that the landlord bore the sole liability for the parking lot and sole responsibility for compensating Kandrac’s injuries. The court decided that, as a general rule, tenants in a multiple-property shopping center, where the landlord contracted through its leases for sole authority over the maintenance of common areas such as parking lots, do not owe customers a duty to maintain or repair those areas.
The court concluded that the express terms of Marrazzo’s lease agreement with the landlord unequivocally placed the obligation for parking lot maintenance on the landlord.

The agreement stated that the landlord “covenants and agrees that it shall maintain the common areas of the shopping center in good operating condition and repair . . . [and] … shall resurface the sidewalk, parking and driveway areas when the same shall be reasonably necessary.” Because the lease expressly gave the obligation to maintain the parking lot to the landlord, the landlord also bore any liability for injuries arising from injuries occurring as a result of the condition of the parking lot.

The court explained that its ruling in Marrazzo’s case was very fact specific, meaning that it might reach a different result if presented with other lease agreements. In other words, a tenant might not always escape liability for the injuries its customers suffer accessing its establishment. However, terms like those in Marrazzo’s lease, which so clearly and exclusively place all power, control and responsibility for a common area like parking lots within the scope of a landlord’s domain, significantly limit the tenant’s ability to affect the state of repair of the parking lot and therefore create the potential for the landlord bearing sole liability.

A commercial lease contains many provisions, each of which can substantially affect the duties of each party, depending on the terms the parties negotiate. To ensure that your commercial lease gives you the authority you need to conduct your business, while not exposing you to unnecessary legal liability, consult the real estate attorneys at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. Our New Jersey real estate attorneys can help negotiate a lease that both protects and advances your business interests. Contact us online or call (201) 587-1500 or (212) 380-8117.

Blog Posts:

New York Tax Court Rules that Business is Liable for Full Sales Tax Bill after Transfer of Business Assets, New York & New Jersey Business Lawyer Blog, Aug. 30, 2012
Protecting Your New York or New Jersey Business from Liability for Distracted Employees’ Car Crashes, New York & New Jersey Business Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2012
Brazilian Teenager Who Survived Car Crash Can Stay in the U.S., ICE Says, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, Feb. 23, 2012