The Duties of Property Owners to Minimize Risk of Injury
In New Jersey, as in all states, an owner or other person exercising control over real property has a duty to take certain actions to minimize the risk of injury to persons legally on the property. That duty applies to both residential and commercial property. The duty extends to anyone who exercises control over property, including owners, landlords, tenants and property managers.
As a general rule, a property owner must take reasonable steps to monitor property for potentially dangerous conditions. Nonetheless, there’s no requirement of actual knowledge of a dangerous condition. If the owner/property controller should have known of the condition through the exercise of reasonable care, there may be liability.
Once a dangerous condition is discovered (or should have been discovered), the owner must either eliminate the risk of injury (fix the problem), prevent access to the area of the property where the hazard exists, or provide reasonable notice to potential visitors of the risk.
An owner’s duty varies based on whether the visitor is deemed to be a trespasser, an invitee or a licensee:
- A trespasser is someone who is on property without express or implied permission. As a general rule, there is no duty owed to trespassers. One exception to that rule—children who trespass because of an “attractive nuisance” on the property may still have a claim.
- An invitee is any person who enters onto property for the benefit of the property owner. New Jersey identifies two types of invitees—business invitees and public invitees. A business invitee is anyone who enters property to potentially conduct business with the property owner. A public invitee is someone who enters ostensibly public land, including public parks, malls and hospitals. Property owners owe the highest duty to invitees.
- A licensee is someone who enters property with the express or implied permission of the owner. Typically, a party guest in your home is a licensee. The duty of a property owner to a licensee is only to remedy or warn of conditions that were known, but which the licensee would not be able to independently discover.
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