Update: The Pennsylvania Superior Court Decides Landlord/Tenant and Real Estate Liability Law

The Pennsylvania Superior Court, which is an intermediate level appellate Court, recently issued two decisions which should be of interest to persons who are landlords, tenants or customers at business real property.

In a case entitled Echeverria v. Holly, the Court was faced with the question of whether a residential landlord could be successfully sued for negligence for failure to install smoke detectors. The case involved a fire in a two unit, multi-family residential rental property which took place during October 2010. The fire on the premises claimed the lives of three individuals. A representative of the estates of the decedents as plaintiffs attempted to recover damages for common law negligence for failing to install smoke detectors. The County Court sustained preliminary objections and dismissed the claim. The Superior Court reviewed the matter and reversed the judgment. The case was sent back to the lower Court for trial. It is well settled that a landlord owes a duty to protect tenants from injury or loss resulting from a negligent failure to maintain a rental property in a reasonably safe condition. Before the Echeverria case, there was no standing rule that smoke detectors would be required to be installed. While the case has not yet been finally decided, plaintiffs’ attorneys will claim that this ruling imposes an absolute duty on landlords to install smoke detectors in residential units. The Court did not opine as to whether the tenant would have an obligation to make certain that batteries were up to date and that the smoke detectors continue to function properly.

The second real estate decision, Newell v. Montana West, concerned a commercial property operated as a bar and nightclub. A patron found that the on-premises parking lot was full and accordingly he parked on the far side of a busy highway. After the patron left the bar, he was struck and killed by an automobile traveling on the highway. The decedent’s estate claimed that the establishment was negligent for providing insufficient parking and making it necessary for customers to cross a busy highway to park. In this case, the Superior Court agreed with the property owner and held that no duty arises under Pennsylvania law that would form the basis for a claim of negligence under the given circumstances and that past accommodations concerning parking did not result in a voluntary assumption of a duty by the property owner.
— Bill Brennan

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