Commercial Landlords Responsible for Injuries to Tenants Too

Historically, Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 186, Section 19, has provided residential tenants with recourse if they sustain injuries on premises caused by the landlord’s negligence. The law reads that upon notice, a landlord must “exercise reasonable care to correct the unsafe condition” that she is notified of. The law gives potential victims of injuries from landlords two ways of notice: certified mail from the tenant or notice from the board of health or other code enforcement agency.

In a case handed down by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court earlier this month, Bishop v. TES Realty Trust, SJC-10696 (March 1, 2011), the protections are now extended to commercial tenants. This case is of interest because the tenant rented the entire building and the landlord’s defense was that they had no responsibility; that “the tenant should be deemed to have ’caused’ an unsafe condition by failing to repair it.”
In the Bishop case, the plaintiff notified the landlord of a defective roof. After leaks from the roof caused parts of the ceiling to cave in and injure her, she sued the landlord. The trial court ruled that because she was the tenant, she did not have protection under the statute. The Supreme Judicial Court, however, found that “the [tenant’s] evidence was sufficient to support a jury finding that the [landlord] defendants committed a breach of their statutory duty to remedy an unsafe condition under [MGL Chapter 186] § 19, and that their breach of duty was a substantial contributing cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.”