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Can you sue a landlord over a fallen air conditioner?

You know it's summer in New York when air conditioners sprout from every apartment window in the city -- at least in the buildings that were designed prior to central air.

Unfortunately, this has a lot of New Yorkers scurrying from spot to spot, nervously looking up to see if the window air conditioning units hanging over their heads are actually supported by anything other than the window frame. (Odd are very good that they aren't.)

It turns out that a standard-sized air conditioner falling from just a few stories up is a lot heavier -- and more dangerous -- than the proverbial "deadly penny" dropped from the Empire State Building. The average window unit weighs about 41 pounds -- which is more than enough to hurt someone if it falls from an unsecured perch.

So, who is responsible for a poorly-secured air conditioning unit that falls out of an apartment window and hurts someone?

The injury victim will probably need to consult with an attorney to be sure, because there may not be an obvious answer. Premises liability laws put a certain responsibility on the owners of a building to keep the property reasonably safe -- but the limits on landlords create some unique issues.

The landlord may have responsibility for something that falls out of a tenant's building unless they have turned over all possession and control of the apartment to the tenant. Whether or not that's legally true depends a lot on the lease and the landlord's capacity to gain access to the premises. There may also be a question about whether or not the landlord had either actual or constructive knowledge that there was a danger to pedestrians from an unsecured air conditioner (or anything else) hanging out a tenant's window.

The possible defendants in a case like that would certainly include the landlord -- but it would also include the tenants in the apartment and any maintenance company or handyman service that improperly installed the unit.

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