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Landlord May Have Breached Statutory Covenants by Letting Snow and Ice Accumulate in a Common Area

Premises Liability / March 13, 2019

Snow and ice are generally open and obvious and rarely present special aspects. Cole v Henry Ford Health System, 497 Mich 881 (2014); Hoffner v Lanctoe, 492 Mich 450, 456 (2012).

However, Trueblood v P & G Apartments, LLC, ___ Mich App ___ (2019) (Docket No. 340642) underscores that open and obvious is not a defense to a claim under the Landlord-Tenant Act, MCL 554.139.

A landlord breaches its duties under § 139(1)(a) only if snow and/or ice render a sidewalk unfit for its “intended purpose” (i.e., “walking on it”). Trueblood, ___ Mich App at ___; slip op at 7. Under Allison v AEW Capital Mgt, LLP, 481 Mich 419 (2008), this requires a plaintiff to show that the snow or ice was more than a “mere inconvenience.Trueblood, ___ Mich App at ___; slip op at 7.

The Trueblood panel found that, because there was evidence that the sidewalk may have been completely covered in ice, and the landlord might not have salted or shoveled, a jury would have to decide whether the landlord violated § 139(1)(a).

The Trueblood panel further found that – while under, Allison § 139(1)(b)’s duty of “reasonable repair” does not apply to common areas like sidewalks – Allison did not consider the landlord’s duty under § 139(1)(b) to comply with health and safety laws. That duty, according to the Trueblood panel, applies to sidewalks and other common areas.

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