Commercial tenants and landlords alike will find a recent Massachusetts case instructive as to the limits of liability to be imposed on corporate property owners in actions for negligence and premises liability.
Marino v. Mystic Valley Trust, et al., involved claims for negligence asserted by a commercial tenant against his landlord, after the tenant slipped and was injured on an accumulation of oil within his rented space. At trial, the plaintiff tenant sought and was granted an instruction to the jury stating that the defendants, as commercial landlords, owed the plaintiff a duty to maintain the leased premises in a reasonably safe condition. The plaintiff was awarded judgment for negligence.
The Appeals Court reversed, finding the above jury instruction to be both erroneous and prejudicial to the defendants. The Court noted that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has declined to extend any “warranty of habitability” to commercial realty. In the residential setting, the warranty of habitability states that the lessor of residential premises must exercise due care to assure that lawful guests and occupants are not subject to an unreasonable risk of harm. This typically entails regular inspection of the premises, the prompt repair of any defects, etc.
With respect to commercial leases, however, landlords need only exercise such reasonable care with respect to common areas, and any other areas in which the landlord retains a “high degree of control” over the leased premises. Otherwise, a landlord will only be responsible for acts stemming from their own gross negligence on the property. Of course, if a commercial landlord agrees in its lease to provide certain maintenance or cleaning services, the landlord is bound to carry out these duties in a reasonable, non-negligent matter (or potentially face actions for negligence and breach of contract). In Marino, however, no contractual provision existed.
With respect to Marino, commercial tenants should be aware of their inheritance of rental property “as is,” and should be sure to negotiate well in advance any terms as to property maintenance, management and inspection, thereafter including those terms within the commercial lease.
If you or someone you know have any questions about this any other civil litigation matter, the attorneys at Mirageas & Avery, LLC are here to assist you.