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Snow Removal is the Homeowner's Responsibility

Updated on January 22, 2014

Slip and Falls Could Cost Homeowners

Ice is just as dangerous as snow
Ice is just as dangerous as snow | Source
If the tenant doesn't do a good shoveling job, the homeowner could be sued
If the tenant doesn't do a good shoveling job, the homeowner could be sued | Source
Snow should be shoveled so disabled can travel on sidewalks
Snow should be shoveled so disabled can travel on sidewalks | Source

Who Pays When a Person Slips and Fall?

If you are a person who owns rental income property, do you think you are saving money by making the tenant shovel the snow from your property? The answer is no. Most cities put the responsibility for snow removal on the homeowner. Specifically, removal of snow from the entire sidewalk is required, not just a path. Making the tenant do snow removal is asking for trouble.

Why buy an expensive piece of real estate and make the people who are helping to pay your mortgage perform work at your property? Have a tenant do work that, if someone gets hurt, carries the possibility of you having to pay an attorney and your insurance company to defend you? Better to hire a company with their own insurance do the work.

In Boston and New York City, it is now entirely the homeowner’s responsibility to shovel and maintain the property free from snow and ice. In Boston, the sidewalk, driveway, or parking lot must be shoveled within three hours of the end of snowfall. Shoveled in four hours in New York and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Twenty-four hours in Minneapolis for homes and duplexes. In all cities, snow, ice and slush must be removed to the bare pavement. The area also must be treated with sand, sawdust, or similar material.

Chicago has a “Snow Corps” of people who will shovel the snow for disabled and elderly homeowners. What is similar about all the ordinances is the motivation. The elderly, parents with children or strollers, and people with assitive devices need cleared sidewalks.

As the homeowner, you are ultimately responsible for keeping your real estate from snow and ice. If you are unable to shovel the snow, you need to hire someone. You aren’t saving money by having your tenant shovel the snow from your property. If the tenant doesn’t do a good job, and a visitor slips and gets hurt, as the owner of the property, you will still be sued.

If your tenant gets hurt while shoveling the snow or slips while applying ice melt on the stairs, here are the possibilities:

  • Chances are, the tenant will sue you. If not for the work he or she was doing, for the injury sustained while doing the work.
  • While the tenant is recovering from the injury, he or she may not be in a position to pay your rent
  • Your homeowner’s policy may reject representing your slip and fall lawsuit if a tenant failed to adequately remove the snow

“Margaret” laments the poor behavior of her tenants. She has a three-car garage, and lives in her 3-family house with two other tenants. She has included a snow removal clause in their leases. They are responsible for shoveling their own parking spaces when it snows.

“The problem is, they won’t shovel adequately. They only shovel just enough to get their cars out of the driveway. They put the snow anywhere, and don’t put down ice melt.”

When Margaret comes out, her parking space is covered with snow from her tenants’ spaces. The driveway is solid with ice. Whenever she wants to go anywhere, she has to shovel and ice not just on her parking space, but theirs as well.

“How can I get them to properly shovel and ice the parking driveway”, Margaret asks. Well, that’s the problem. It’s her driveway, and a tenant is not going to invest any more energy than is necessary on her house.

At the End of the Day

Homeowners who entrust their tenants with snow removal put the liability of slips and falls to the strength or inclination of their residents. Homeowners need to review their liability policy with their insurance company to see if there is coverage for a lawsuit due to a tenant’s failure to remove snow from the property, or negligence. Notwithstanding the above, for snow and ice removal, hiring an independent contractor with his own insurance should be done, or the homeowner should do it himself.


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    • Carolyn2008 profile image

      Carolyn Gibson 3 years ago from Boston

      I had to shovel, too. And my parents supervised. Good training for later homeownership responsibilities.

    • profile image

      Will Jenkins 3 years ago

      As a kid, I could never understand why my parents made me shovel our sidewalks. I always thought the sidewalk wasn't our responsibility. Now that I'm older, I understand why I had to do the snow removal on the side walks. So far, no one has slipped in front of our house!

      Will Jenkins

    • Carolyn2008 profile image

      Carolyn Gibson 4 years ago from Boston

      Thank you. Depending on the state, just adding snow removal to the lease may not absolve the landlord from lawsuits.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      This looks like good counsel. I've been a landlord, but I never even thought about potential liability if my tenant didn't shovel the sidewalk.