Window Cleaner Cannot Claim Damages from Tenant for Fall

June 2, 2009
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If an employee working for a maintenance company has an accident in a leased space, who is responsible—the tenant or the landlord? If the landlord contracts directly with a maintenance company, then it is responsible for any on-site injuries incurred by the company’s employees.

Take this example of a cleaner who fell off a desk on which was she standing while cleaning the inside of an office building window. The cleaner filed a labor law claim against the tenant that had leased the space. However, the landlord had hired a maintenance company to provide cleaning and janitorial services, which included cleaning the building’s windows every three months. Tenants, including the one in this case, could—and sometimes did—contract directly with the maintenance company for “special services.” But window cleaning was not a special service. It was provided by the landlord to the tenant in exchange for rent.

The worker fell while she was cleaning a window on a floor that the tenant had not yet occupied. The tenant was scheduled to, and did, begin moving in the next day. Preoccupancy cleanings, however, were also provided for in the landlord’s contract with the maintenance company.

A trial court granted the tenant’s motion for a summary judgment and dismissed the claim. An intermediate appellate court reversed the dismissal of the claim, which was appealed by the tenant. The appellate court found that there was no evidence that the tenant hired the maintenance company to perform either a regular quarterly cleaning or a preoccupancy cleaning. The worker did not claim that the tenant supervised her work. Thus, the tenant had no liability under the labor law. The court noted that “it was unlikely that the tenant hired the employer at its own expense when the employer was contractually obligated to the landlord to do the work for free.” The order of the intermediate appellate court was reversed, and the complaint against the tenant was dismissed [Miliha Ferluckaj v. Goldman Sachs & Co., Goldman Sachs & Co. v. American Building Maintenance Co., April 2009].