Legal Memorandum: Liability for Injuries Caused by Defects in the Property

Issue: Under Massachusetts law, when is the landlord of commercial property liable for injuries caused by defects in the property?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence, Real Estate Law
Keywords: Injuries resulting from a defect in the property; Landlord; Liability
Jurisdiction: Massachusetts
Cited Cases: 419 N.E.2d 302; 519 N.E.2d 599; 45 Mass. App. Ct. 469; 705 N.E.2d 277; 31 Mass. App. Dec. 89; 698 N.E.2d 1291; 11 Mass. App. Ct. 703; 402 N.E.2d 1045; 540 N.E.2d 667; 424 N.E.2d 941; 12 N.E.2d 823; 650 N.E.2d 819; 89 N.E.2d 209; 582 N.E.2d 539; 61 N.E.2d 105; 38 Mass. App. Ct. 975
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 03/01/2000

           A landlord should not be held liable in negligence for injuries resulting from a defect in the leased premises unless it knew or reasonably should have known of the defect and had a reasonable opportunity to repair it.  Young v. Garwacki, 380 Mass. 162, 170, 402 N.E.2d 1045 (1980).   

Under earlier Massachusetts law, the lack of control itself was a strong indicator of freedom from liability.  Under that theory, a premises owner, having parted with control of the premises under a lease, was not liable to a third party for injuries arising from the failure to keep the premises in good repair.  E.g., Brazinskos v. A.S. Fawcett, Inc., 318 Mass. 263, 61 N.E.2d 105 (1945); accord Minkkinen v. Nyman, 325 Mass. 92, 89 N.E.2d 209 (1950) (unless landlord has control of the premises, he is not liable for a defective condition of the premises, either to tenant or to one who comes upon the premises in the right of the tenant).  The Young court stated, however, that the element of control is not always, in and of itself, determinative of liability with regard to a defect in the leased premises.  “Ordinarily, absent a contractual agreement or the tenant’s permission, the landlord can neither inspect for defects nor make repairs on the rented premises.  This obstacle, however, does not justify wholesale absolution from liability.”  Young, 380 Mass. at 170.  See also Hopkins v. F.W. Woolworth Co.,