After a big snow storm, you may be wondering if there is a law stating that you have to shovel your sidewalk. You’ve already spent time clearing your driveway and maybe a path to your front door, but are you required to shovel the sidewalk? After all, doesn’t the city own the sidewalk? So who is responsible for clearing the snow?
SNOW REMOVAL LAWS
The answer is that it depends on where you live. Massachusetts state law allows cities and towns to pass their own ordinances relative to snow and ice on buildings and sidewalks. MGL c. 40, s. 21 (2), (3), and (4). “Towns may, for the purposes hereinafter named, make such ordinances and bylaws…for providing for the removal of snow and ice from sidewalks”. As such, there isn’t a single state law that lists the obligations that a specific homeowner or business owner has for shoveling snow from their sidewalks. Rather, property owners need to consult their individual city or town’s Ordinances and Bylaws.
For example, a property owner in Boston is required to remove snow for the full width of the sidewalk or a minimum width of 42 inches. A property owner has 3 hours after the snow stops to remove the snow and ice or, if the storm occurs overnight, 3 hours after sunrise to remove the snow. This rule applies even if snow was moved onto your property from a city plow. Boston will also issue fines of up to $200 a day for every day that the snow is not removed.
In Lynn, it is a $50.00 fine if a homeowner does not clear snow from his or her sidewalk within 10 hours after snowfall stops during the day. In Salem, it is a $25.00 fine for a first offense if a homeowner does not clear snow either six hours after snowfall stops or after the city’s snow emergency lights are turned off, depending on which is later and if the snow stops during the day. If the snow stops during the night, then you have until noon the next day.
You should keep in mind that regardless of what your city or town states in its bylaws, you should always clear snow and ice from your sidewalks. A snow covered sidewalk could force pedestrians to walk in the street, creating a dangerous situation in general and particularly when the street is already narrowed by snow and covered in ice. Also, you should make sure that you clear more than just a single shovel width of snow from your sidewalks. The path should be wide enough for people using wheelchairs and pushing strollers.
Mail carriers and delivery service workers all need to be able to access your property safely. These workers are especially vulnerable to slip and falls during the winter and you do not want someone getting hurt on your property. Mail carries will not deliver mail if your walkway is not cleared or if it is deemed unsafe. If you order an item delivered from Amazon or food from Uber Eats or Door Dash, you do not want the driver to fall trying to get your order to you.
If a person injures themselves falling on snow or ice on your property, then you may be liable. Massachusetts state law changed in 2010 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned 125 years of legal precedent when deciding Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. In that case, the SJC held that all Massachusetts property owners must remove or treat snow and ice like any other dangerous condition on their property. The Court reasoned that it “is not reasonable for a property owner to leave snow or ice on a walkway where it is reasonable to expect that a hardy New England visitor would choose to risk crossing the snow or ice, rather than turn back or attempt an equally or more perilous walk around it.”
LANDLORD VERSUS TENANT
If you own a rental property, you need to understand that your are ultimately responsible for snow cleanup since you are the legal owner of the property. This is true even if you do not live on the property yourself. Some landlords may try to include language in the lease agreement making it the tenant’s responsibility. However, this would only work for a section of the property that only the tenant has access to. A landlord cannot pass on that responsibility to a tenant for public sidewalks, or common driveways and walkways shared by multiple tenants. Landlords are required by the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code regulation 410.452 to keep common areas and sidewalks free of snow and ice. Also, since the landlord is still the property owner, he or she would still be legally responsible even if a tenant agrees to shovel part of the property.
For more information on whether or not your city or town has a bylaw requiring property owners to shovel snow from their city sidewalks, you can consult this interactive Sidewalk Snow Removal Map created by The Office of Geographic Information.
Map of Homeowner Responsibility
Map of Business Owner Responsibility
Map of City Responsibility
Or, if you prefer a list view, the Boston Globe has a detailed article here.
Looking at North Shore cities and towns you’ll see:
If you’ve been injured falling on snow or ice on someone’s property, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer for a free consultation. You can call us at 978-852-0914 or leave a message below.