Homeowner’s Association Tort Immunity and Business Liability in Residential Housing
31-2-3044 Engle v. Paradise Pavers Pond Landscaping, LLC , N.J. Super. App. Div. (per curiam) (4 pp.)
Submitted by New Jersey Civil Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
New Jersey Appellate Division recently decided a case regarding a trip and fall on a negligently maintained sidewalk abutting from a piece of the property. The plaintiff fell on the sidewalk and was injured as a result. The plaintiff sued both the defendant and the defendant’s business, arguing that the defendant was running his business from home.
There were two important legal issues in the case. The first regards Tort Immunity for residential homeowner’s regarding natural sidewalk deficiencies. When a sidewalk becomes uneven through no actions by the homeowner and only through natural causes, the homeowner has immunity if someone is injured as a result of the sidewalk being uneven. This was the case here. The defendant had immunity to suit because the sidewalk became uneven through natural causes. However, if it was found that the defendant was running a business out of his residency, that would not be covered by the tort immunity, and the plaintiff could successfully sue the defendant’s business.
Although the defendant randomly placed a sign on the property’s lawn to generate business, routinely parked one of his trucks in front of the house, had an in-home telephone dedicated to customer calls, and the business website listed the property address, the business had no particular business location and the defendant rarely met customers at his home. The Court ruled that the defendant’s business was not the property’s predominant use, in fact it was almost exclusively used a residence.
The Court did not elaborate on when a residential property becomes a business. A good test would be the predominant use test, which looks to whether the property is mostly used as a business or as a residence. In order to avoid business liability in this sense, use your home as little as possible for business purposes.