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Brooks v. Francis

Filed: June 1, 1982.

BLANCHE BROOKS
v.
FLORENCE I. FRANCIS AND LAWRENCE BROTHERS COMPANY, (INC.)



Appeal by plaintiff from Bailey, Judge. Judgment pronounced 17 March 1981 in Superior Court, Wake County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 10 February 1982.

Morris, Chief Judge. Judges Vaughn and Martin (Harry C.) concur.

Morris

Defendants argue, citing the common law, that summary judgment was appropriate in that they owed no duty to repair or warn plaintiff of the defective condition of the steps, and alternatively, that plaintiff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law by using the rear stairs, which she knew to be dangerous. We hold that defendants did indeed bear a duty to repair, but that plaintiff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law, barring recovery.

The rule of caveat emptor has been commonly applied by the courts of this state in the landlord tenant context. Until recently landlords have had no duty to make repairs, and have not been held liable for personal injury caused by failure to repair. Robinson v. Thomas, 244 N.C. 732, 94 S.E.2d 911 (1956); Fields v. Ogburn, 178 N.C. 407, 100 S.E. 583 (1919). The passage of the Residential Rental Agreements Act, G.S. 42-38 to 44, created a

new standard of care owed by landlord to tenant in North Carolina, however.

§ 42-42. Landlord to provide fit premises. -- (a) The landlord shall:

(2) Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition;

§ 42-44. General remedies and limitation. -- (a) Any right or obligation declared by this Chapter is enforceable by civil action, in addition to other remedies of law and in equity.

(d) A violation of this Article shall not constitute negligence per se.

The common law precedent cited by defendants for the proposition that a landlord is under no duty to keep rented premises in repair in the absence of an agreement relating to repairs is, because of the Act, inapposite. We have said that, "[b]y providing that a violation of statute does not constitute negligence per se, the General Assembly left intact established common law standards of ordinary and reasonable care . . . (Citations omitted.)" Lenz v. Ridgewood Associates, 55 N.C. App. 115, 119-20, 284 S.E.2d 702, 705 (1981). A violation of the duty to maintain the premises in a fit and habitable condition is, therefore, evidence of negligence. See O'Neal v. Kellett, 55 N.C. App. 225, 284 S.E.2d 707 (1981). We do not find those cases concerning duty to warn and negligent repair cited by defendants pertinent to the matter at hand, as G.S. 42-42(a)(2) imposes not a duty to warn, but to correct unfit conditions, see Lenz v. Ridgewood Associates, supra, and because repair of the rear steps negligently done was not alleged by plaintiff.

Applying ordinary rules of negligence, the evidence before the Court tends to show that defendants allowed the defective steps to remain on the premises, and that the steps created an unsafe structural defect and failed to provide the service and ...


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