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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hermes Reyes, et al. v. Harry C. Egner, et al. v. Colombia Reyes v. Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors


In this premises liability case, we consider whether the
lessors of a beach house had a duty to correct or warn about what are claimed to be dangerous conditions of their property, presenting hazards that allegedly were not reasonably apparent to a short-term tenant and her guests. The tenant's elderly father, who had been vacationing at the house, was injured when he lost his balance while stepping onto an outside wooden platform. The platform was adjacent to the sliding glass door leading from the master bedroom to a rear deck. There was no handrail available to help plaintiff regain his balance, despite building code provisions that appear to mandate one. He and his wife thereafter filed a personal injury action against the lessors and the real estate broker that had facilitated the two week lease.

Because the trial court erroneously required plaintiffs to prove that the lessors had actively or fraudulently concealed the allegedly dangerous conditions, we vacate summary judgment entered in the lessors' favor. In doing so, we endorse and apply the principles expressed in Section 358 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965), which does not require proof of such concealment by a lessor in order for liability to attach. We distinguish Patton v. The Texas Co., 13 N.J. Super. 42, 47 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 7 N.J. 348 (1951) (holding that a lessor is not liable for latent defects, absent "fraudulent concealment"), decided before the adoption of the Second Restatement and which is inconsistent with Section 358. We do so because this case, unlike Patton, involves a short-term rental, a context in which a lessee often has only a limited opportunity to discover hazardous conditions on the premises.

We affirm the grant of summary judgment to the real estate broker, declining to extend liability to the broker in this short-term rental context beyond the limits expressed in Hopkins v. Fox Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426 (1993).