A “Real Estate Manager,” Yes, But Whose “Real Estate Manager”?

Cambria v. Two JFK Blvd, LLC, 423 N.J. Super. 499 (App. Div. 2012).  Plaintiff was injured when he fell in the parking lot of a strip mall owned by defendant Two JFK Blvd, LLC.  Plaintiff sued that landlord, as well as a real estate manager, David Rubin.  Those defendants sought a declaration that they were covered by a liability insurance policy obtained by one of the strip mall’s tenants from Harleysville Insurance Company.  The key language of the policy stated that there was coverage only for the named “insureds,” which included the tenant and “[a]ny person (other than your employee) or any organization while acting as your real estate manager.”  Thus, there was coverage only if Rubin was the tenant’s real estate manager.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the Law Division ruled that Rubin was the tenant’s real estate manager.  Therefore, there was coverage.  Harleysville appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed in an opinion by Judge Fisher. 

Judge Fisher found it clear that Rubin was certainly the landlord’s real estate manager.  He had been “hired to maintain the strip mall’s records, collect the rents, and care for and maintain the property.”  But the question of whether Rubin might be the tenant’s real estate manager turned, the panel said, on “whether the incident occurred in the leased premises or some other area of the property for which the tenant was responsible.”  Since the lease made the landlord solely responsible for maintaining and caring for the parking lot, “Rubin acted as the landlord’s real estate manager with regard to snow and ice removal from that area.”

Defendants argued that a provision of the lease that required the tenant to pay “additional rent” for costs attendant to “the [b]uilding and [b]uilding areas,” including “removing snow and debris,” shifted to the tenant the duty to care for the parking lot.  Judge Fisher rejected that contention.  That provision did not purport to alter the common law rule that a landlord is responsible to maintain a parking lot.  The mere statement that some of the tenant’s rent payment would be used for that purpose did not place on the tenant any duty to maintain the lot.  Accordingly, Judge Fisher reversed the decision below and directed the entry of summary judgment for Harleysville.