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To Catch A Thief

“Could the board have foreseen that your apartment would be robbed,” that’s what it comes down to,” I told my friend, the lawyer, who was in a state of disbelief.  She had just come back from a week in the Bahamas and was feeling mellow till she opened the door of her pricey condo only to find her jewelry stolen and evidence that the intruders had slept in her bed.

“But this is supposed to be a safe building in a safe neighborhood, which is one of the reasons I bought here, and nothing like this ever happened before.”

“You’re making a pretty good case for the board,” I said, “not yourself.”

 “Whose side are you on?”

 “Just telling you like it is.”

Your building doesn’t have to guarantee you — or your possessions —  from intruders.  It’s not Fort Knox.  In fact, barring any specific obligations set out in  the bylaws or proprietary lease, all it has to do is take minimal security precautions against reasonably foreseeable criminal acts by third parties. I knew it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

 “Don’t you have doormen 24/7?” i asked.

 “Of course.”

“And video cameras in the entry?”

“Yes, and those supposedly super secure key cards.”

“And there were no prior incidents?”

 “Never.”

“You’re dead – not you, your claim against the board. You have insurance, don’t you?”

 “Yes, but it shouldn’t happen in a building like this.”

The same thing happened to a woman renting a Fifth Avenue condo from its unit owner. She came home to find $430,000 worth of jewelry gone. She said just what you’re thinking – that the board was negligent cause there’d been a rash of robberies at the building so it should have known and provided better security. 

“So, what happened?”

“They’re still fighting over what documents the building has to turn over about security procedures so she can show if the board was negligent or not.”

Now if the board did something to create the condition, that’s a different story – at least that’s what one court said just the other day.  The building came to fix a shareholder’s terrace door, only the door they brought didn’t fit so they told him it wasn’t safe to stay till they replaced it.  Except when he came back the place had been ransacked and lots of stuff stolen. This time when the board said it wasn’t liable because entry by a third party wasn’t foreseeable, the court said: you must be kidding, you’re the ones who compromised the security of the apartment by leaving it without a terrace door.

 “So what are you telling me?

“Put your good stuff in the vault if you really want to be sure.”

For the full story see:

 Udoh v. Inwood Gardens, Inc., 2010 NY Slip Op. 01537, Feb. 23, 2010, App. Div. 1st Dept. (Board can’t say robbery wasn’t foresseable when it left apartment without terrace door.)

Chang v. Board of Managers of 325 Fifth Avenue Condominium, 2009 NY Slip Op. 31394(U), June 19, 2009, Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. (Court to examine report of private investigator about security at the building.)

To access these cases, go to Search NY Slip Decisions, then under Search By Citation enter the date and number of the case.

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