The New Jersey Appellate Division has ruled that a Condominium Association’s duty to ensure that common areas are kept in safe conditions includes the use of a center handrail on a wide staircase. The Appellate Division further held that the plaintiff’s legal status as an owner of invitee is inconsequential. In Lechner v. 303 Sunset Avenue Condominium Association, the three-judge Appellate Division panel said an Association can be held negligent if a unit owner is injured because of a dangerous condition in a common area. Hoffman quoted the state Supreme Court’s 1988 ruling in Thanasoulis v. Winston Towers 200 Association: “The most significant responsibility of an association is the management and maintenance of the common areas of a condominium complex.”

The three-judge panel unanimously concluded that the Association had a duty to the unit owners to maintain the stairs, and that included a duty to replace the missing center handrail. Interestingly, in dicta, the Court said Associations have the right to adopt bylaws that prohibit residents from suing them for negligence. The subject Association had not adopted such a bylaw. Based upon this language, Associations may wish to review their bylaws in an effort to diminish potential liability exposure.