The general rule in Pennsylvania is that an out of possession landlord does not owe a duty to business invitees when it leases premises to another. There are some exceptions.
In <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Vasilik-v-Voipoch.pdf">Vasilik v Voipoch</a>, LLC, plaintiff slipped and fell in a stairwell with no handrails. After discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment arguing that as an out-of-possession landlord it owed no duty to plaintiff. In opposition, plaintiff argued that defendant was responsible for any defect that existed at the time a lease was signed. The court noted that generally, out-of-possession landlords are not liable for defective conditions that prior to the inception a lease. However, there were exceptions to the rule. For example, if the landlord retained control over the premises or negligently made repairs. In analyzing the potential exceptions, the court found that the entire property was leased to the tenant, including the stairwell, thus the landlord did not retain control over the stairwell. As to repairs, though the landlord had made repairs to other parts of the building, it never performed repairs in the stairwell. As such, there was no exception to the general rule, and the out-of-possession landlord was not liable for the defective conditions in this matter.
This case illustrates the importance of conducting discovery to develop sufficient evidence to enable a party to carry its burden of proof and prevail on a motion (or to successfully defeat an opponent’s motion for its lack of evidence).
Thanks to Collen Hayes for her contribution to this post.