Homeowner’s Exemption To Labor Law Liability Applies To Mixed Use Building (NY)
It would not be uncommon for any New Yorker on any given day to run into a bodega or small store for a random needed item. It would also not be uncommon for that bodega or small store to also house a family of people, usually the owner of the business itself. However, when operating a business in a space also used jointly for residential purposes, the waters become murky when it comes to liability for work that is contracted to be performed on the premises. The issue here is whether the homeowner exemption of the N.Y. Labor Law §§ 240(1) and 241(6) applies to home business-owners who use their space jointly used for both residential and commercial purposes.
Framers of this legislation, particularly taking in mind a city like New York ripe with small business owners with little to no resources, could not have wanted excessive litigation or liability to fall on every homeowner operating a small business inside their home. This statute was arguably created to protect these homeowners who are unable to lease space in an office building and are, instead, forced to make good with what they have. With this in mind this Court must look to the underlying purpose of the homeowner exemption, which is to shield small-property owners from exclusive liability.
Specifically, the Court of Appeals in Anderson v Flanagan found that even though the defendant homeowner in that case operated a commercial business from her home she was still shielded from strict liability by the homeowner exemption. Anderson, 210 A.D.2d 955; see also Bartoo v. Buell, 87 N.Y.2d 362, 369. In that case, defendant Flanagan was the owner of a one-family dwelling where she resided and also operated a daycare five days a week. Flanagan hired out workers to add a bedroom and install a sliding glass door from the bedroom to the backyard on the first floor of her two-story home where she also ran her daycare business. Plaintiff Thomas Anderson, one of the employees contracted to perform work at the premises, was injured when he attempted to get down from the roof. The court in that case held that Flanagan, an owner of a one-family dwelling who did not direct or control the work was exempt from liability under Labor Law §§ 240(1) and 241(6) because the owner contracted for work that directly related to the residential use of the home, even if the work also served a commercial purpose. Moral of the story? If you are a the owner of a one-family dwelling that is used jointly for both residential and commercial purposes, when in doubt just contract it out!
Thanks to Tristan Montaque for his contribution to this post. Please email Georgia Coats with any questions.