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Do Commercial Tenants Have a Duty of Care to Protect the Leased Property from Arson by a Third Party?


Negligence is a central issue in many civil lawsuits; the plaintiff is suing the defendant for compensation for financial losses the plaintiff suffered because of something irresponsible the defendant did, or else something reasonably cautious that the defendant failed to do.  In order for a plaintiff to win a lawsuit about negligence, you must prove that the defendant had a duty of care to the plaintiff.  The best contracts state in detail the parties’ obligations to each other, but when the parties’ relationship is not contractual in nature, then the duty of care is based on common law.  Maryland law acknowledges a duty of care that landlords have to protect their tenants from unsafe conditions on the property under lease.  It does not posit such a duty of tenants toward the landlords from whom they lease the property.  If you are involved in a dispute over damage to a commercial real estate property, contact a real estate lawyer.

The Case of Gianni’s Pizza

Joseph Crawford leased the first floor and part of the basement of a building in Frostburg from a company called Evergreen Associates, LLC; according to the terms of the one-year lease agreement, Crawford would the space under lease to operate a restaurant called Gianni’s Pizza.  The contract specified that neither party would be liable to the other for accidental damage to the property, as long as the damage was covered by insurance; if the cost of repairing the damaged exceeded the insured amount, the tenant would only be responsible for paying the difference if the damage was caused by the “fault and neglect” of the tenant.

On May 26, 2009, someone entered Gianni’s Pizza through an unlocked door when the building was unoccupied and started a fire.  Evergreen filed a lawsuit against Crawford for the cost of repairs minus the amount covered by insurance.  The parties disagreed, though, whether the act of arson by a third party could be attributable to Crawford’s negligence.  Evergreen’s lawsuit implied that the arsonist was able to enter the building either because employees did not lock all the doors when the restaurant closed on the night of the fire, or else because a former employee retained possession of a key to the restaurant after his or her employment was terminated.  The court granted Crawford a summary judgment; it reasoned that, while landlords have a general duty of care toward their tenants regarding rented property, tenants do not have the same duty of care toward their landlords.  Evergreen appealed the decision, but the appeals court affirmed the summary judgment in favor of Crawford.

Contact an Attorney Today for Help

Working with a Washington DC real estate lawyer can help you resolve disputes over commercial real estate properties.  Your lawyer can help prove your case about how much responsibility, if any, you should bear, if the property suffers accidental damage and can help you collect money from the appropriate parties. Contact Tobin O’Connor Concino P.C. for help.



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