Our condominium board, property managers and concierge clients should consider a recent ruling concerning the duty of care owed to condominium residents. In a recent trial court case, the Superior Court in Jason Field et al. vs. Highbridge Concierge, Inc., et al., carefully addressed the duty owed to a couple who were viciously murdered in their Boston penthouse by a property management ex-employee who exploited lapses in security to access the victims’ unit.
The case expands the duty owed to residents
From: the same legal duty of care a landowner owes to reasonably maintain a premises to prevent injury: reasonable care under the circumstances;
To: a duty of care for residents’ safety in common areas under its control for all “reasonably foreseeable” harms.
The Court reviewed law from other states, and found that since a board controls the conditions of common areas much like a landlord, and that opportunistic crime is a reasonably foreseeable harm under Massachusetts law, a board cannot ignore that reasonable foreseeability and may maintain liability if it does not meet its duty of care for opportunistic crime in common areas.
Potential for expanded liability
This expanded duty does not only affect condominium boards. Property management companies and concierge companies may also owe duties of care to unit owners if they affirmatively assume responsibility for the security of the building.
- Implications for Property Managers and Concierge Companies Generally:
Unit owners usually can’t look to property management agreements for liability coverage. This is because unit owners are not considered direct beneficiaries of these contracts. In Fields, however, the judge quoted the property management contract, which accepted security duties: “[property management] shall be authorized and required to perform all services necessary for the management of the Property, including… security services.” (Emphases from the Court). The judge ruled that because the murders were foreseeable, and because management assumed the association’s duty by contract, property management owed a duty of care to the victims.
- Implications for Condominium Boards Generally:
The Court found the board had a duty of care by, in part, looking to board meeting minutes several months before the murders, in which the board discussed the need for security upgrades. Moving forward boards will need to be cautious when discussing problems to be addressed lest they inadvertently create an acceptance of unintended assumption of duties.
- How This Ruling Might Play Out In Your Condominium
Goldman & Pease has worked with condominium boards for the past 40 years, and recognizes that most associations and building managers, rightly, have presumed they had a minimal duty regarding security of owners and occupants. However, unless this ruling is successfully challenged at the appellate level, we expect that management and concierge companies will, moving forward, seek to disclaim security functions in contracts. We anticipate that associations, in turn, will need to delegate security responsibility more clearly. There is no doubt that security concerns will be a central focus during contract negotiations with concierge and property management entities.