On August 12th, the New Jersey Supreme Court (NJSC) ruled that homeowners’ associations can be held liable for injuries (sidewalk liability) caused by poorly maintained sidewalks that are owned by the association. “Who owns or controls the sidewalk, not who uses it, is the key distinguishing point between a public and private sidewalk,” wrote Judge Barry Albin for the court in Qian v. Toll Brothers.
This ruling is significant because the decision overturned two lower court rulings that initially declared the homeowners’ association in this case was not liable. Originally, the trial judge and the Appellate Division found that the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling in Luchejko v. Hoboken applied, which ruled that a condominium association had no duty to maintain public sidewalks adjoining its property.
Qian v. Toll Brothers changes this, however, because the NJSC determined that the Village at Cranbury Brook Homeowners’ Association was liable for the plaintiff’s injury in 2008. Cuiyan Qian was first injured while walking to the grocery store, where she slipped and fell on ice that had frozen on the sidewalk while in the Village at Cranbury Brook, a 55-and-over development with over 102 single-family homes.
Village at Cranbury Brook Homeowners’ Association had employed a third-party management company, Integra Management Company, to maintain the development; which had in turn hired Landscape Management Services (LMS) to clear ice and snow from the sidewalks after inclement weather. However, the HOA’s contract only stipulated that LMS would clear snow or ice falls of two inches or more, with additional cost provisions if they requested LMS to clean any accumulation of two inches or less. The homeowners’ association opted not to pay for the additional services in this case.
With this new decision, all other HOAs and Community Associations should take note and begin to plan accordingly for the upcoming winter season. The potential liabilities involved in not properly and regularly maintaining abutting sidewalks might be very costly. The attorneys in Stark & Stark’s Community Associations Practice are available to answer any additional questions about how this ruling might affect you or your association.
Klein Property Management, Manalapan, NJ keeps you up to date on laws that may effect homeowners associations and your community. For more information please contact us at 732.446.0611 or click our link http://kleinpropertymanagement.com