I am thrilled to have Jon Rockwood, Esq.
as guest blogger!. (508-668-0059)
Jon has a general practice in Walpole, MA, where he specializes in, Business, Real Estate, Construction, Condo, Zoning/Land Use, environmental and employment law.
My hope is that he will be joining us from time to time to discuss matters of law that pertain to real estate.
Attorney Rockwood has provided the following information:
MA Supreme Judicial Court Decision Today 3/1/11
The Decision Affects Commercial Landlords
Bishop v. TES Realty Trust
Bishop v. TES Realty Trust
(Commercial Landlords = anything other than owner-occupied two- or three-family dwelling)
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an important decision today (March 1, 2011) that affects Massachusetts commercial landlords. In Bishop v. TES Realty Trust, the Court answered the question whether MA G.L. 186, 19 applies to commercial landlords, a ruling the Court hadn’t been asked to make in the 40 year history of the law. The statute does apply to commercial landlords, as of today!
Commercial Landlords Need Be Aware
A landlord who receives notice from a tenant of an unsafe condition that was not caused by the tenant, in a portion of the leased premises controlled by the tenant, a commercial landlord has a statutory duty to “exercise reasonable care to remedy the unsafe condition.” If the commercial landlord does not exercise such reasonable care and someone is injured as a result, the injured party can sue the landlord for damages.
The Facts of the Case
Mary Bishop, the operator of a tanning salon in a single-story building in Swampscott she leased from the defendants, TES Realty Trust. On June 5, 2000, Mary sent a certified letter to the Trust, complaining about leaks in the roof and in two skylights near the tanning beds. Eventually the husband of one of the trustees got around to doing some roof repairs, but he did nothing to repair the skylights. On May 14, 2002, rain water fell from a leak around one of the skylights, and Mary placed a bucket beneath the leak to catch the water. When she looked up to the skylight, plaster fell from the roof into her eye, causing Mary to fall backward and then to trip over the bucket, seriously injuring her shoulder.
Mary sued the Trust, alleging that her injuries were caused by the Trust’s negligence in failing to repair the roof.
The trial judge concluded that, under the commercial lease, Bishop was responsible for making all necessary repairs to the leased premises, which included the roof. The judge also concluded that the Trust owed no statutory duty to repair the unsafe condition, because MA G.L. 186/19, did not apply to commercial leases. Today, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the trial judge was wrong about the statute, and has ordered a new trial.
What Does This Mean?
Today’s ruling doesn’t expand a commercial landlord’s legal obligations to its tenants, but it does clarify the extent of its liability under the circumstances that arise under the statute. The law states that after receiving the required notice of an unsafe condition, not caused by the tenant, in a portion of the premises controlled by the tenant, a commercial landlord owes a duty to exercise reasonable care to remedy the unsafe condition. If a tenant or any person lawfully on the premises is injured as a result of the failure to correct the unsafe condition within a reasonable time, the injured party has a right of action in tort against the landlord for damages. The word “landlord” as used in the statute thus applies to a commercial, as well as residential, landlord.
The lessons from the Bishop case for the commercial landlord are clear: if you are notified by your tenant of an unsafe condition within the tenant’s leased premises that was not caused by the tenant, make sure to take reasonable measures to fix it within a reasonable amount of time.
Given all the snow this winter, leaky roofs will probably be the major culprit of such conditions, as it was in today’s case.
Don’t Try to Get Too Clever
and write this obligation out of the lease: the Court also ruled that you may not obtain a waiver of this duty in any lease or other rental agreement, because any such waiver "shall be void and unenforceable.”
For additional legal info or assistance, contact Jon Rockwood or 508-668-0059
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This article is for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. No actions should be taken solely upon the information provided in this article.