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NJ Community Association Liability for Maintenance of Public Sidewalks

Community Associations are often concerned about the extent of their liability for the maintenance of public rights of way located within their boundaries. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently shed light on this issue in the case of Luchjeko v. Hoboken, where the Court held that condominium associations are not liable to pedestrians injured as a result of the association’s failure to maintain abutting public sidewalks. In Luchjeko, the plaintiff slipped on an ice-covered sidewalk abutting the condominium association and the Court found that association was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Concluding that a condominium association is residential and not commercial property, the Court upheld a common law policy that a residential owner is not liable after melted snow from a recently cleared sidewalk freezes and causes slippery conditions.

While Luchjeko was a victory for community associations, there are two things to keep in mind. First, the Court focused on the “nature of the use” of the land abutting the sidewalk and not the nature of the organization which owns the property. A non-profit organization, the Court analyzed, would be responsible for maintaining public sidewalks only when the organization’s use of the property is partially or completely “commercial.” Importantly, a non-profit community association that collects fees from its member owners differs from a rental community, which generates income and realizes profits despite the residential use of the individual apartments. Second, the Court cited the governing documents on multiple occasions while making its decision. Specifically, the Court focused on association restrictions on the limited use of the condominium units as private residences. Accordingly, community associations should seriously consider whether they impose such restrictions on the use of the property within the association so as to ensure its liability to possible injury is not left open ended. Out of an abundance of caution, community associations might consider taking measures to ensure that the sidewalks located within the community are maintained in a reasonable manner.

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