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Caveat landlord: Your building, your liability

A fatal accident in New York City should serve as a reminder of how important it is that landlords maintain commercial and residential buildings.

The victim was one of two mechanics working in a luxury high-rise. He was inside an elevator shaft when the car moved down three floors. He was crushed between the first floor and the basement. The other worker, outside the elevator, was not injured.

The details are sketchy. Authorities are not clear about why the victim was in the elevator shaft, nor have investigators determined if the car fell or lowered. The city will continue its investigation, but it could be a while before the final report is available.

According to Zillow, the building has 1,000 rental units and a long list of amenities. Yet, the day of the worker's death, a tenant told reporters that the elevators "have been a mess for years." Another commented, "These elevators have not worked in so long."

City records bear them out. The building has been cited for a dozen violations in the last decade or so. Three major elevator violations from 2014 remain open.

The building owner issued a statement expressing sympathy for the victim's family. He also said that the mechanics were working on the elevators to modernize the system. Again, authorities could not confirm.

Landlords take a huge risk when they let code violations slide, whether deliberately or accidentally. Under New York law, building owners have a nondelegable duty to keep the premises in good repair. If there is an accident, the buck starts and stops with the landlord: He cannot blame his doorman for letting a thief into the building, nor can he blame his own maintenance crew for not shoveling the sidewalk if someone falls.

A history of code violations or a slew of unresolved violations will likely work against a property owner in court. When you own multi-family property in this state, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

Sources:

New York Post, "Mechanic crushed to death by elevator," Aaron Feis, Jan. 9, 2015

N.Y. C.P.L.R. 1602 (McKinney), via WestlawNext

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