Is an out of possession New York City landlord liable for the maintenance of an icy public sidewalk, in front of property leased to a tenant?
Most of the time, the answer is yes, as New York’s Courts have held that whomever owns the property is liable for injuries caused by an unsafe icy sidewalk.
Under NYC Administrative Code 7-210:
“It shall be the duty of the owner of real property abutting any sidewalk…to maintain such sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition.” Further, the owner of property abutting the sidewalk “shall be liable for any injury to property or personal injury… caused by the failure of such owner to maintain such sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition. Failure to maintain such sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition shall include…the negligent failure to remove snow, ice, dirt or other material from the sidewalk.”
While there are some exceptions to NYC Administrative Code 7-210 , the provision applies to all sidewalks in front of commercial establishments and apartment buildings in the City of New York.Multiple other municipalities within the State of New York have provisions similar to NYC Administrative Code 7-210.
A plain reading of NYC Administrative Code 7-210 shows the “owner” of the property is the liable party. However, some Courts have ruled that if the owner was out of possession, they could avoid liability. Thus, in those cases, an injured pedestrian would need to look to the tenant in possession.
In He v. Troon Mgt., Inc., a pedestrian slipped on an icy sidewalk and sued the abutting property owner for damages. The Court originally dismissed the case, on the basis that the terms of the contract between the out of possession owner and tenant, made the tenant responsible for the removal of snow and ice from the sidewalk. Thus, in the eyes of the court, the owner shifted any liability to the tenant. The pedestrian argued that the case was incorrectly dismissed, because NYC Administrative Code 7-210 names only the “owner” as the responsible party. He argued that, as a pedestrian, he was not privy to the lease between the owner and tenant, and therefore should not be bound by their agreement.
Luckily, the Court agreed and reversed the decision, holding that owners of property have a non-delegable duty to maintain the abutting sidewalk. This duty applies with full force, even if the owner is out of possession or has contractually transferred maintenance of the sidewalk to a tenant. Although the landlord may contractually require the sidewalk be cleaned by a tenant and/or require the tenant to obtain insurance for their own safety, the ultimate responsibility to the public is on the owner of the property abutting the sidewalk in the City of New York.
It is important to keep in mind that there are exceptions to NYC Administrative Code 7-210, and that different Counties, Towns, Cities, and Villages have varying codes. Therefore, it is best to consult with an attorney who is well-versed in New York sidewalk law as soon as possible, if you have been injured due to an unsafe sidewalk condition. Do not hesitate to contact our team over the phone at 212-668-0059 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org