In most cases, except for those containing negligence in regards to construction, a residential property owner is not liable if a pedestrian is injured as a result of the condition of the sidewalk on the landowner’s property. However, the same is not true of commercial landowners who generally owe a greater duty to maintain sidewalks.
In determining whether a property is commercial or residential, courts traditionally address the nature and use of the property. Obviously, if the property is owned for investment or business purposes, the property is classified as “commercial”.
There are many instances where the use is not readily identifiable. For example, a residential property can still be classified as “commercial” if the owners do not live there and instead rent out the home.
There may be additional immunities and defenses available when the sidewalk is in front of a religious, charitable or other nonprofit organization, again, depending upon the property usage. A landowner using his property exclusively for charitable or religious purposes is generally not liable for injuries sustained by a pedestrian on the abutting sidewalk.
For example, if the organization uses the property solely as a parish or rectory, the organization is not a “commercial” landowner. Where there is mixed use however, say, where the property is a parish rectory and used for commercial purposes, liability will generally attach despite the non-profit status of the owners.
Where property abutting the offending sidewalk is owned by religious or other nonprofit organizations, courts are directed to focus on the use of that property to determine whether to impose liability.
Each case is different, and therefore, it is imperative to do a diligent search of the property owner(s) and determine the true property usage.