When moving into a new home or apartment, New Jersey residents have a right to suitable, structurally sound living conditions. All residential leases carry an “implied warranty of habitability”—in plain English, that means a landlord or property owner has a duty to maintain the structure and keep it safe for anyone living there. Whether the building is a residential or commercial property, the landlord has an obligation to meet safety and sanitation standards throughout the duration of the lease.
Landlords who own multiple-family buildings, like apartment complexes, are subject to inspection every five years by the Bureau of Housing Inspection under the New Jersey Hotel and Multiple Dwelling Law. One- and two-family households are generally governed by local ordinances and subject to each individual city or borough’s unique standards.
But regardless of the number of occupants, the property owners, construction companies, and landlords are required to keep buildings safe and sanitary for inhabitants. If a property owner fails to maintain a reasonable standard of care for the building and that neglect leads to a construction injury, he or she could be liable for damages.
What Are the Signs of an Unsafe Building?
According to the Revised General Ordinances of the Borough of Fort Lee, a building is considered unfit for human habitation if “conditions exist in such building which are dangerous or injurious to the health or safety of the occupants of such building, the occupants of neighboring buildings, or other residents of the borough.” Dangerous conditions include (but are certainly not limited to):
- Defects that increase the risk of fire or accidents
- Lack of adequate ventilation
- Lack of light
- Lack of sanitary facilities
- Dilapidation and disrepair
- Structural defects
Local ordinances will vary based on your location, but property owners are generally required to uphold certain standards. These standards include keeping basic structural elements of the building (floors, stairs, walls, and roofs) intact; keeping common areas like hallways and stairways safe and clean; ensuring electrical, sanitary, heating, air conditioning, ventilating, and plumbing systems work correctly; supplying the appropriate amount of hot and cold water; arranging for trash pickup; managing lead paint dust, asbestos, and other known toxins; and exterminating rodents or other vermin.
All residential properties—regardless of the number of families inhabiting it—must be outfitted with carbon monoxide alarms and smoke detectors. (One exception to this rule is for homes without fuel-burning appliances or an attached garage, carbon monoxide alarms are not required.) Tenants in an apartment complex are entitled to certain other protections as well.
The Bureau of Housing Inspection requires landlords to install child protection window guards children 10 years of age or younger (so long as a tenant submits a written request to do so). The bureau also requires adequate locks that meet federal standards on all exterior doors. In addition, landlords are required to maintain certain heating and utility standards (unless the tenant is able to supply heat through separate equipment that will be individually computed and billed, such as paying directly to the city). Landlords are required to have a heating system that will provide and maintain heat at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. from October 1 to May 1, landlords must maintain a temperature of at least 68 degrees, and the landlord must maintain a temperature of at least 65 degrees at all other times. The landlord is also responsible for maintaining the heating system and keeping it in good condition to ensure it will provide enough heat.
What Laws Govern Property Maintenance in New Jersey?
The New Jersey State Housing Code sets the standard for suitable living conditions. The Housing Code explicitly requires that:
- All dwellings have a safe supply of potable water (that meets the standards of the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act)
- All homes are provided with electric service
- All homes have a toilet, bathroom, bathtub or shower, and a kitchen sink made of non-absorbent, impervious material
- All plumbing equipment be connected to hot and cold water lines
- All dwellings are outfitted with water heating facilities that are maintained regularly and kept in safe working condition
- At least one approved garbage receptacle is provided for each dwelling
- Every habitable room must have at least one window or skylight facing directly to the outdoors
- Every room should contain two separate wall type electric outlets (or one convenience outlet and one ceiling or wall type outlet) and the fixtures should be maintained in good condition
- Means of ventilation are provided for every habitable room, as well as every bathroom
- Every home have heating facilities that are properly installed and maintained
- Every dwelling should have a safe and unobstructed exit that leads to a safe and open space and does not require exiting through any other dwelling unit
In addition, the state code requires that property owners keep the elements of the building in good, working condition. This includes the foundation, floors, walls, ceilings, doors, windows, roofs, stairways, and porches. All balconies, porches, or roofs higher than 30 inches off the ground must have railings or parapets if they are to be used by the tenants. Roofs, walls, windows, and exterior doors must be free from holes or leaks that could let in water. New Jersey residents have a right to a vermin-free dwelling that is clear of garbage and safety hazards.
In addition to the state code, local ordinances govern building conditions. Check the city code for your individual city or borough for more information.
What Kind of Injuries Are Most Common in Unsafe Buildings?
Residents can suffer a wide variety of injuries as a result of unsafe building conditions. Falls cause a large number of unsafe building injuries, which can include:
- Broken bones
- Soft tissue injuries
- Internal injuries
Falls can lead to anything from a small bruise to a major brain injury, depending on the severity and cause of the fall.
Sharp floorboards, broken floors, or other sharp objects can cause lacerations and even serious infection if the injury is untreated. In addition, if the building is unsafe during a fire, residents are at risk for burn injuries, smoke-related lung damage, and even death.
When selling or leasing a residence, property owners are required by law to disclose the presence of certain toxins in the dwelling. Lead-based paint is the leading cause of lead poisoning in the U.S., and it is more common in homes built before 1950. If lead-based paint is allowed to crack and chip off, it leaves behind lead dust that is extremely poisonous and invisible to the naked eye. Lead poisoning can lead to reduced IQ and attention span, impaired growth, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, insomnia, and a number of other health, intellectual, and behavioral problems in children. There is currently no cure for lead poisoning, and you have a right as a New Jersey resident to be informed of the presence of lead in the home.
When Do I Need to File Suit?
New Jersey law states that personal injury lawsuits stemming from “defective and unsafe” building conditions must be filed within 10 years of the construction or maintenance services.
However, the New Jersey Statute of Repose—similar to a statute of limitations—does not bar all personal injury claims after 10 years. New Jersey law requires that the case involve a “defective and unsafe” condition to be subject to the 10-year limit; cases may be brought against planners, designers, and surveyors for building elements that were simply defective and not unsafe.
In EA Williams, Inc. v. Russo Development Corp., the New Jersey Supreme Court used a leaky roof as an example—the homeowner could take action against a contractor for a leaky roof because it did not result in a “defective and unsafe condition.” In order for the 10-year limit to apply, the building improvement must have resulted in a condition that was both defective and unsafe, not a condition that was simply defective or expensive to fix. But when it comes to building changes that created defective and unsafe conditions, a plaintiff must file a claim within 10 years of the construction work. The statute of repose can be complicated, and an experienced personal injury lawyer will have the knowledge to explain your individual situation.
Contact the Construction Injury Lawyers at Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi Today
If you suffered a construction injury as a result of unsafe building conditions—whether due to shoddy construction or poor maintenance—you could have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. The experienced team at Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi can help you win the damages you deserve. Call (201) 585-9111 or click here to schedule your free, confidential consultation.