In light of the recent snow, we received the following question:
I am a physician, and I rent the ground floor apartment in a three family house in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. This is my medical office; I do not live there. The landlord lives in the second floor unit, and a tenant lives in the third floor apartment.
The landlord and I share responsibility for removing the snow and ice. This is an informal, friendly arrangement. My lease is silent as to obligating me to maintain the sidewalk in any way. Sometimes, the landlord clears the sidewalk, and sometimes one of my employees does the job. For example, if the snow occurs when on the weekend when my office is closed, the landlord would shovel. During a weekday I would have my employee shovel since he is a big, strapping guy, and my landlord is elderly.
If someone were to fall on the sidewalk due to a failure to shovel and de-ice, would I be liable?
The answer would be a qualified “no”, the doctor would not be liable.
The obligation to shovel is the landlord’s. The recent change in New York City law makes this adjoining property owner liable for the condition of the sidewalk. This assumes that the lease does not impose any duty upon the doctor to clean the sidewalk and entry into the building.
However, the fact that both the landlord and tenant share the responsibility of clean-up might make both parties liable. Even though the doctor had no obligation to do anything, as a volunteer she must do her job in a reasonable manner. In effect, she has agreed to undertake the responsibility of shoveling. Although she had no duty to volunteer, this good Samaritan can be liable if she were negligent. Therefore, both landlord and tenant might be liable in court.
If you have been involved in a snow and ice accident, please feel free to call me for a free consultation at 800-581-1434 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark E. Seitelman, 1/6/10, www.seitelman.com.