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Baker v. Minken

Decided: July 7, 1937.

WILLIAM BAKER, RESPONDENT,
v.
MORRIS AND HANNAH MINKEN, APPELLANTS



On appeal from the Union County Circuit Court.

For the appellants, Harry J. Weiner.

For the respondent, Henry Harris.

Before Brogan, Chief Justice, and Justices Trenchard and Parker.

Parker

The opinion of the court was delivered by

PARKER, J. The suit is for damages for personal injury sustained by falling down a staircase at night, in a building situate in Linden, in this state, owned by defendants; plaintiff claiming that the staircase was unlighted. There was a dispute on that point which was properly left to the jury to settle. The critical question in the case was whether the building itself was within the statutory definition of a "tenement house;" plaintiff asserting that it was, and defendant denying it. The only available ground of appeal is the first, that the trial court refused a nonsuit. The other three do not challenge any ruling in point of law, but are involved in a decision of the first.

The definition of a tenement house in chapter 61 of the laws of 1904 (Pamph. L., p. 96) was modified by chapter 10 of 1918 (Pamph. L., p. 68) to read:

"A tenement house is any house or building or portion thereof 'which is rented, leased, let, or hired out to be occupied or is occupied as the home or residence of three families or more, independently of each other, and doing their cooking upon the premises.'"

This was further modified in 1927 (Pamph. L., p. 789) by adding a proviso relating to cities bordering on the Atlantic ocean, which does not apply to this case.

The building in question, taken as a whole, seems to have been a detached building, fronting on a street. The case contains no picture of it, nor any floor plan or elevation. What we gather from the oral testimony is that the ground floor, front to rear, was used as a store, probably with reservation of space for halls and stairways leading to the two or more upper floors. The feature stressed by the defense, and claimed to remove the building from the tenement house class, is that the whole was transversely bisected by a partition wall with no opening therein, dividing it into a front and a

rear portion above the stores, each portion arranged for two families and no more, and each portion reached only by its separate outside entrance, hallway, and stairs. The witness Bass, for defendants, testified in part on cross:

"Q. There are four families living in the house, but they don't use A. There are two separate houses attached. They are definitely divided right from the cellar to the roof. Q. They are under one roof, aren't they? A. No, sir, I wouldn't consider it one roof. I would consider it two roofs. Because the slope of the roof is definitely divided. Q. But the walls are joined; there is no alley-way between them? A. No, but you can tear down one building and the other building would still be a two-family building. Q. But it is all on one lot? A. Correct. Q. A store on the bottom, and one tenant over it, and another tenant over him? A. There is a basement store. What I mean by a basement store, it is used -- instead of a basement, they used it for a store, probably for some storage, maybe a meeting house for somebody, and ...


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