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Premises liability – real estate brokers

The Appellate Division considered in Reyes, et al. v. Egner, et al., etc .,(decided January 8, 2009) 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, the court vacated summary judgment entered in the lessors’ favor. The case involved a short-term rental, a context in which a lessee often has only a limited opportunity to discover hazardous conditions on the premises. However, the court affirmed 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).

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