Massachusetts Property Owners Now Have Legal Responsibility To Shovel and Treat Snow and Ice

by Rich Vetstein on July 28, 2010 · 90 comments

in Landlord Tenant Law, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Premises Liability, Safety


High Court Overrules 100 Years of Massachusetts Snow Removal Law

In a much anticipated ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overruled 125 years of legal precedent and announced a new rule of law that all Massachusetts property owners can be held legally responsible for failing to remove snow and ice from their property. The case is Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. and can be read here.

Rejecting the old common law rule that property owners could simply leave naturally accumulated snow and ice untreated and escape liability, the SJC held that all Massachusetts property owners must remove or treat snow and ice like any other dangerous condition on property. Justice Ralph Gants reasoned that “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.’’

Also check out my newest and most updated post (as of 2/5/15): Massachusetts Snow Removal Law Update

I am a landlord. How long do I have to shovel snow and ice on my rental property?

There is no clear cut answer to this question, and juries and courts will ultimately decide what is reasonable. The City of Boston’s policy is to give businesses 3 hours to clean snow, and 6 hours to residents. In Worcester, it’s 12 hours to clear snow. Those are the minimums. As with any dangerous condition, my advice is to shovel and treat snow and ice early and often. Even a thin coating of black ice can cause someone to slip and fall and seriously hurt themselves. (Admit it if you’ve dumped on your rear end like I have!). If you are an out-of-town landlord, you must hire someone to shovel your snow.

Am I required to shovel the public sidewalk in front of my house/business after a storm?

In most Massachusetts towns and cities, the answer is yes, and municipalities have the power to enact such bylaws and fine scofflaws. Check your local town ordinances for guidance. The cities of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Newton, Lynn, and Worcester (among others) all require property owners and businesses to clear municipal sidewalks in front of their residences or businesses. Fines are assessed against non-compliance. The City of Boston mandates clean sidewalks within 6 hours of a storm; Worcester is 12 hours. In Somerville, for example, if snow ceases to fall after sunrise (during daylight hours), property owners must shovel sidewalks by 10 p.m, and if snow ceases to fall after sunset (overnight), property owners must shovel sidewalks by 10 a.m. You can also be fined for shoveling snow onto the street, blocking a curb cut or putting snow on municipal owned property.

In some more residential towns, the local DPW will clear the sidewalks, but the default rule is that property owners are generally responsible for clearing their own sidewalks and driveways.

My lease states that the tenant is responsible for snow shoveling. Is that legal and will that protect me from liability?

Landlords have the primary responsibility for snow removal at rental property. Under the State Sanitary Code, property owners/landlords must keep all means of egress free from obstruction. As for the removal of snow and ice, the Code provides that the landlord shall maintain all means of egress at all times in a safe, operable condition and shall keep all exterior stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies and bridges free of snow and ice. A landlord may require the tenant be responsible for snow and ice remove in a lease provision only where a dwelling has an independent means of egress, not shared with other occupants, and a written lease provides for same. Otherwise, landlords are responsible for snow and ice removal.

Even if the tenant is responsible for snow removal under a legal lease provision, the landlord could still face personal injury liability for slip and falls on snow and ice under the Target ruling.  A person who is injured due to untreated snow or ice will likely sue both the property owner and the tenant. The property owner must ultimately ensure that the property is safe for visitors.

Will my homeowner’s or CGL insurance policy cover any injuries from slip and fall on snow/ice?

Yes, usually. The standard Massachusetts homeowners insurance policy and commercial general liability insurance policy (CGL) will have liability coverage for slip and falls on property. Make sure you have ample liability coverage of at least $500,000 to 1 Million. (You can never have enough insurance!). As with any insurance question, it’s best to contact your personal insurance agent.

I’m just a regular ol’ homeowner. What if the mailman or delivery person slips on my walkway?

You may be liable if you left dangerous snow and ice on your walkway. The new law applies to every property owner in Massachusetts, not just landlords. Get some Ice-melt and sand and spread on your walkway. If it re-freezes overnight into black ice, you will remain liable. Get back out there and spread Ice-melt!

If you have additional questions, please ask them in the comment forms below!

Resources: Mass.Gov Law About Snow and IceCity of Cambridge Snow Removal PolicyCity of Boston Know Snow Fact Page

Read More: Shoveling Ruling May Face First Test–Boston Globe (12.25.10).


Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts Real Estate Litigation Attorney who has litigated hundreds of cases in the Massachusetts Land and Superior Courts. For further information you can contact him at

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  • Scott Randall

    I live in apartment with a private lot with a hill and every time it Snow’s I have to take the next day off cause the plow doesn’t come in till late in the afternoon a good 12 hours after the storm I have hurt my knee and me and my wife have lost several days of work because of it….. what is my landlords time frame for plowing and shoveling

  • Tom

    If someone owns a parking lot that is open to the public to park, are they also legally required to clear the lot? I’m asking because I hurt myself this week trying to get my van out of the unplowed lot behind the house.

  • Janine

    I own a two family house on a corner and we shovel all the way around our house not just where we enter and exit, multiple times during a storm. I was out walking our dogs yesterday and there are corner house not shoveled and even some businesses (one was a southcoast hospital group office building). The problem is who is going to enforce this law and if elderly and can’t afford to have snow removed what good hearted neighbor will do it for them. Its sad that there are less kind hearted people out there. I also help our elderly neighbors around us and shovel out the fire hydrant in case of a fire.

  • Troy

    I think it’s clear that homeowners and landlords should be doing the right thing, but at what point will people be held responsible for their own actions? If someone slips on ice the reason is because they weren’t paying attention to what they were doing. Not because someone didn’t shovel a sidewalk. It’s ok for someone to slip while it’s snowing but not after the snow has stopped. Doesn’t make much sense

  • Craig List

    I am a decent person. No one wants to see anyone hurt, but the state of Massachusetts is ridiculus.
    The issue is so simple, WHO owns the sidewalk! The sidewalk is not magical it is a piece of property.
    If I own it then I should be able to remove it and consider anyone on it a tresspasser. And let’s face it I do own it cause I pay the property tax on it. but if the town owns the sidewalk as a matter of public safty then let them pay the taxes and clear it, This is a case of the state wanting it both ways, i.e., say the property owner owns the land and have him pay taxes, then tell him it is for public use, NOT fair. This is so simple , if own then stay off if you own then you maintain it. why is a sidewalk different then the street itself, the street needs to be public, therefore the town owns it, pays for it, maintains it.

  • Buddy Sylvia

    Who is responsible if the business across the street plows their snow onto my side and covers my sidewalk?

  • JohnQTaxPayer66

    This is why I left thst shit hole state. Regulation.

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  • rbeland

    I’m a bit late to the conversation but this post came up during my search for info about damage to automobiles from falling ice/snow from a roof. Is there any precedent in MA that addresses snow/ice falling on a tenant’s car and damaging it? I had a situation recently where a guest of a tenant had parked on my property and a chuck of ice/snow slid off the roof and damaged their car pretty bad. They are making a claim to their insurance company but I have been told they do not have insurance beyond basic liability. I don’t feel I am responsible to clear snow and ice from the roof. I am responsible for the well-being of my tenants and their guests while on my property but I am not responsible for their personal property am I? Any thoughts or insight? Thank you.

  • Nira

    My car was hit by icicles that fell from building roof where I rented my apart., I wanted to know whether the building owner/manager is responsible for the repair costs

  • DayShep

    With all this snow, and no where to put it, so people are getting irate if you put any snow on their pile on the side walk in front of their house. I’m pretty sure the sidewalks are not private property, because we would never be able to use them. So is it okay to put snow on a pile, not blocking or ruining the home owners path?

  • Kevin

    You own or rent a business, it is your responsibility to shovel. These illegals that run a store in somebody else’s name think that they do not have to shovel because it doesn’t belong to them. You want to be in America, then it’s time you pay the price of being American!

  • LMK

    with all the snow accumulating on my tiny house, my landlord sees no need to have the snow removed. There is almost 3 feet in some places on the roof. I am a senior citizen, on disability and with limited financial means…hiring a contractor is out of the question. And as a renter, esp with a disability, I dont feel its my responsibility to remove the snow from my roof. No lease, no rental agreement. Its been understood that I shovel the driveway and shovel out the mailbox. I have no problem doing those things…I have helpful neighbors. But the roof ?? 5 years ago I fell on the ice while shoveling the driveway…ended up with a severely torn rotator cuff and blew my knee out. Lost my job & it went downhill from there, physically. I cant see me shoveling snow off a roof. But the fear that its going to collapse keeps me awake at night

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  • cassie

    I live in a remote area of Plymouth MA where I must travel over a right of way Duxbury Beach road to get to my home. The owners of Duxbury Beach Reservation, are refusing to plow the right of way preventing me from access to and from my home. The town of Plymouth who owns part of the land on the right away also refuses to plow the road from snow.

  • j.j.dixon

    Does this pertain to self storage units that fail to salt and sand their walkways between units?

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  • bjl

    I own a business that has roughly 6 to 7 Parallel parking spaces in front of my store. The town said its private property but my landlord refuses to plow it. What are my legal rights. Thank you

    • The landlord is responsible. You should hire a plow and try to back charge the landlord for failing to perform ordinary maintenance.

      • Adam Adamname

        Wow, so you skipped the advice of threatening through an attorney to a possible fist fight. You really are a Dick Vetstein.

  • Jeff

    The MA SJC is full of shit and can’t back up their own words seriously! Majority of the time they don’t assess fines according to certain towns and cities. If it’s business owners, that’s a different concern…

  • Adam

    If shoveling city property/ sidewalk and an injury incurs, am I intitled to put a works men’s comp claim on city’s insurance?

    • I highly doubt it since you are not employed by the city. Nice try though!

  • carol joyce

    Hi I fell on the ice and broke ankle and now own 10 screws and a plate in my ankle can you help me

  • Jack

    So what exactly is the law in Massachusetts regarding property owners removing snow from their rental property??? I rent an apt in a three family home. We have parking in the back with 4 cars parked there and obviously access to the driveway to the street. Of course I dig my car out and with the help of a neighbor who has a snowblower, we usually get the driveway and the sidewalks cleared up and I throw out ice melt. This year, we didn’t have access to the snowblower ( it was being serviced) and wasn’t ready before the storm. Our landlord lives out of the city 30 mins away and has not once since I’ve lived here sent anyone or come to the house to clear the driveway or the sidewalk. It basically has been left for the residents to do. Is there a law that says specifically that the landlord has to remove the snow from the property and by property I mean the sidewalk, the stairs and the driveway leading to the back and the back stairs?? We all have access to the the back stairs. There is no separate set of stairs like a detached house or entrance way. I’ve been told it’s on the residents because we have no formal agreement to park off street. It’s always been allowed so therefore it’s on us to clear it. But wouldn’t the driveway be considered a walkway of sorts due to the fact that some visitors usually use the back stairs to get to the apts they are there to visit? People still have to walk on them regardless of whether they are visiting here or live here so if not shoveled and or treated and someone falls and gets injured who is to blame. I just would appreciate some clarity on the law…….does a driveway count as property the landlord has to clear snow from or is it on the residents???

  • Dcp

    Sidewalks should be on The city or state, when the plows leave a 4-5 foot solid wall of ice and snow it becomes dangerous to move it all by hand, back, knee or even heart attacks have been racking up since these big snow falls, we don’t own the sidewalks that line our property the city does. Clean your property gov!

  • Jenna w

    I’m a tenant this applies to. What about plowing?

  • Cris

    Me and the husband at work and starts to snow we both not home the mail person slips now what? How can I clean the snow if we are at work? ” just happened and they will not deliver my mail anymore.

  • Karen

    Im a home owner & I slipped & fell shoveling my own driveway. I broke some bones in my elbow & I have nerve damage now. I’m going on my 2nd surgery. I’m in so much pain & I’m limited to what I can do. I’ve missed a lot of work & struggling to pay my bills now. It’s a shame that my insurance doesn’t cover me in anyway!???

  • L A Haire

    Can a snow plow just stack snow on my property from another neighbors property? I have asked him not to do it so now he’s plowing the neighbors lawn to shove onto my property. Seems wrong to me. Thanks

  • Naomi

    What if there is no walkway/sidewalk on my property? But I live on the same side as a school. Got a letter, everyone did on this road, last year about getting a fine if it wasn’t cleared. But last I knew that was inviting someone onto my property, so if they fall they can sue me not the city. Well my homeowners said they could drop me for that if someone falls and gets hurt. Then what?! Clearly the city here, I feel, are trying to screw us so they don’t get the lawsuit.

  • Lorna

    I live in Taunton ma in Bristol county what am I required to do in front of my house???

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  • janet_thinks_so_can_you

    All do respect to anyone that may slip and fall any time, in any season of the year.

    However, the MA SJC is run-amuck in their so called ‘legal realm’ in
    too many and this decision too to lead society further down path to be
    oblivious, blame others, and self destructive. Such ‘legal decisions’ do
    absolutely nothing to prevent injuries. In fact they invite more by
    creating ‘legal’ opportunities to lucre by nurturing and fostering obliviousness, thereby seeking financial recourses for so called ‘legal’ means.

    It cultivates massive distrust in society instead of empathy and
    caring. It causes, rents to increase, taxes to increase, everything one may buy to be more expesive, insurance
    policies to be more cumbersome and ever more costly.
    Litigiousness ever expanding to, deprive morals, virtues, respect, dignity, … all lead to ruin society.

    Facts are, on Earth- in USA- in New England- in Massachusetts, every
    season and day of the year has infinite variable weather and
    consequences. On the topic winter snow, ice, sleet, rain, fog, etc these
    weather events have been happening for Four Billion+ years since Earth
    was formed.
    It is from time immemorial long before humans existed
    on Earth. Accordingly, humans, as have and as do all living creatures,
    had to adapt to winter and all climate weather conditions present.

    Without writing a book on humanity and history some key points are:

    If winter ice, snow, sleet, rain, etc was blanketing harmful there
    would be no humans or other living creatures present wherever such
    weather occurs. In fact most of human population is present where snow,
    ice, sleet, etc occurs. In contrast there are very few people and other
    living creatures present where snow, ice, etc is low, lacking or absent.
    Some examples of such places are deserts, i.e., Sahara, Gobi, Arabia,
    Great-Basin, Sonora, and more.

    In North America native people
    have lived here for more than 16,000 years most of their population
    thrived in areas where snow, ice, occurs. Ever since immigrants arrived
    after 1492 they also settled in areas where snow, ice, sleet, occurred
    and thrived. Amongst, they were explorers, traders, voyageurs, that led
    the way on foot, snow-shoes, over snow, ice, etc, for settlers that
    So in our more recent 400 years of Massachusetts history
    snow, ice, etc has always happened yet the since few hundred immigrant
    Pilgrim settlers population has become 6,300,000 in Massachusetts. If
    snow, ice, sleet, was harmful the human presence in Massachusetts would
    not have become so huge by now.

    This is a brief thought
    provoking message toward promptly eliminating preposterous MA SJC ‘legal
    decisions’ including the one addressed in this forum.

    Further, MA SJC by their ‘legal decision’ promotes serious harm to our
    environment and health by requiring the ever increasing use and
    dispensing of deicing-chemicals. Of late deicing chemicals usage exceeds
    120,000 tons/ winter in Boston alone, in MA & the 351 MA towns it
    is over 4,000,000 tons/yr.
    Such deicing chemicals ‘salts’ such as
    NaCl, CaCl, MgCl, Kcl, their blends along with others pollute ground,
    air, ground water, rivers, lakes, reservoirs. Plus salts cause massive
    ruin to cars, roads, bridges, all infrastructures and utilities. Salts
    are vigorously promoted by mass-media too as means to achieve road car
    driver ‘safety’ whereas instead they promote reckless, boldness;
    egocentric behaviors.
    If use of ‘salts’ on roads etc assured safety
    there would not be any crashes or accidents during summer or ideal
    weather conditions.
    The environmental, social, fiscal hazards and harm are astronomical.

    Again, this is a brief thought provoking message toward promptly
    eliminating preposterous MA SJC ‘legal decisions’ including the one
    addressed in this forum.

  • riposte76

    Can this ruling apply to loss of use?

    • riposte76

      example. A large apartment community no longer shovels the sidewalk, for a full winter.

  • USSA

    How is this not classified as slavery (uncompensated forced labor)?

    • janet_thinks_so_can_you

      You are correct it is another facet of slavery. Compounded by being held responsible aka burnt more by preposterous decisions made by MA SJC to intice obliviousness and reckless behaviours and further demise of virtues to easily blame others for ones injuries.

      • Jack

        How about don’t be lazy and just shovel.

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  • Dash

    No property owner should be held responsible for any path that is held as a public way. Either for snow removal, or the liabilities that surround it. I’m getting tired of this BS where the government (local in this case) gets to have their cake and eat it, too. If they want the public to be allowed onto any property, then they can accept responsibility for the public, and clear their own path.

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  • Lorne50

    what is the time frame for removing the snow from walkways and sidewalks… i’m on call with a snow removal crew, and usually cant get to my own property until i get out of work, well after the snow has fallen ? is there a window ?

    • There’s no specific time frame, but I would recommend that you keep property free and clear of snow so it’s not a hazardous condition.

  • Wbpfor

     How does effect your neighbor putting their snow in your driveway?


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  • Chris

    So, if the town says I own, and am responsible for clearing the sidewalk in front of my house, do I have an actionable claim for trespass against a neighbor who plows an eight foot high pile of snow from his property onto the sidewalk in front of my home?

    • Carol Taylor

      Hi Chris, I have the same problem with my neighbor. Did you ever get an answer/response to this question? If so, please share via email —- caroltaylorrecruits(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks very much

  • tony

    how much is the fine or penalty you stand to receive if you did not clean your property clear of snow?

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  • Vin

    How does a city require a landlord to maintain city property (the sidewalk) or impose a fine if not done? This ordinance seems to be fishy, at best. I’ve heard everything as “it’s the right thing to do” (agreed) to “the sidewalks are easements and you’re responsible” (debatable).

    My thought is that, if the homeowner is responsible for maintenance, then if there were a large crack in the cement, would the landlord also be responsible to hire a contractor to re-cement the walkway?

    • Jack

      The matter at hand is snow and ice. Dont go off topic. Makes you look dumb.

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  • kim

    So, the city has a cap of $5,000 but what is the property owners cap? I bet more than $5,000!
    Also, it’s my responsibility to shovel what is technically the city’s property but I can not drink an open container on that same sidewalk, can I?
    Did I miss something?

  • Greg

    I rent a house on a private way that the town has refused to plow. Who is responsible for clearing the road? Would it be the person who owns that land? Thanks

    • Sean Mastro

      if its a private road? then the land lord should provide a plow service. If its a driveway, a walkway, and a lot of different people in the building use it, then again, its a landlord service that should be provided. If its a house you rent, then maybe you need to start training for home ownership and get out there and shovel!!!!

      • Dick head

        All I can say is that’s some bs

    • Hungry01420

      I have the same issue.. I live on a dead end private city (paper) dirt road, the city says they do not have to maintain and won’t.. There are two properties and we are t at the end.. Who is responsible to keep our right of way open in the winter? His land abuts the entire road up to our property…The previous owner of 45+ yrs.. kept it clear in the winter. The current owner of 13 yrs years feels it is our obligation to maintain it… As his property abuts all of it to us wouldn’t he be responsible to have it plowed.. We clear all of the road from us to them. We have hand shoveled it many times , while they sit inside staring out their window. We do not have the finances to buy a plow truck and we are not young !. I have been polite and asked them to act like adults and shovel and not once in 13 yrs have they picked a shovel up. What is the law on this? It is at least a 35 car long road . They do not even shovel the parking area between their house and garage, thus people visiting them “try” to park on the road thus blocking us in.. Now the bank took their property and Fannie Mae owns it even though they are still living there until forced out. I emailed Fannie Mae and they gave me the agents name. I emailed her and she doesnt reply. Can we legally charge or bill her for snow removal?

  • Dan

    My landlord told myself, and the other tenants that they plow our driveway, both storms they never showed up, we hired someone else to plow, are they responsible?

    • Dash

      Yes. They are.

  • Larry

    What rules or laws are there against commercial snow removers from plowing snow from a commercial business onto the abutting private property. It is a restaurant with a large paved parking lot that angles downhill to my property. The actual property line is about 6-8 feet the the parking lot edge but the snow piles can get quite large and the snow melt can keep my yard wet for quite some time. Along with the snow is salt and sand. This is the second winter for a new owner and I have spoke to them a few times already. The previous owner was more understanding and had the plow-er push the snow in a different direction.
    In the summer I keep the grass or what’s left of it cut and trimmed. I pick up the leaves in the fall and go about 2-3 feet onto paved surface to pick up leaves. With the snow piles also come the leaves that have accumulated up to thirty feet into the lot. Do I have legal rights in this matter?

  • 1helluvatym

    As the tenant of 13 years (no lease, no Tenant At Will) and shoveling many a snow storm on my own, nothing was done by the landlord after the last storm. I mentioned it in a nice note that went with the latest rent check that there is now a Mass. Snow Removal Law. The response I received was to please sign the enclosed Tenant At Will, which included me being responsible for the snow removal. Why should I sign something asking me to relinquish my rights under the law, and protect hers? I suspect by not signing the TAW that the family will give me 30 days to move.

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  • Scott J Lamagna

    I take pride in cleaning my driveway and sidewalks in front of my house and I’m not 100% sure who owns them or is responsible, my concern is no matter how vigilant I am when clearing snow and ice that conditions change so fast in New England. I hate to get into “what if’s” but sometimes melting snow freezes before I get home from work or maybe I missed a small patch or wind has strewn more snow on the walk ways or some drunk just happens to fall how am I liable for such instances?

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  • 1helluvatym

    As a tenant, who do I call when nothing is done on the property?

    • Your landlord. Failing that, city/town inspector. Failing that, go to court.

    • Bla

      Buy your own house then

      • Tali Range

        Brilliant. Will you be paying for it?

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  • Patrick Murphy

    It is still unclear [to me] as to whether a tenent or landlord is responsible for clearing snow/ice from the sidewalk in front of the rented property???

    • The landlords will always be ultimately responsible for ensuring safe passage in front of rental property. Even if there’s a lease provision shifting responsibility, a personal injury lawyer will always sue the property owner–the landlord who retains ultimate liability under the Target case. Thus, if there’s a lease provision providing that the tenant is responsible for snow removal, landlords must ensure that the tenant is actually doing that work–if they are not, they need to do it themselves.

  • Bear

    Regarding liability for a public sidewalk in front of your house, Attorney David White noted that “this ruling does not apply to roads and sidewalks” that are publicly owned. In a footnote by the SJC, for circumstances “not relevant here, for injuries suffered by a plaintiff on a public way, including a sidewalk and roadway,” they cite a 1938 case that ruled that “the owner or occupant of premises abutting on a public way is under no obligation to keep the sidewalk free of snow or ice which came there from natural causes.” This does not mean you can ignore a municipal ordinance that requires you to shovel the public walkways; only that you don’t have the same liability as for your own private properties.

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  • Frosty the Snowman

    @Brad blodget — It’s your responsibility to clean the sidewalk in front of your house. I’m not sure what the definition of cleanliness is. I suppose the court will let you know that if you get sued. ; )

    What if you’re on vacation for an extended period of time and the snow accumulates? Is it still “reasonable” to return in two weeks and then clean it up?

    • Hey Frosty, good question. I would advise property owners who deal with heavily trafficked areas to hire a snow removal company to ensure that walkways, etc. are cleared soon after fresh snowfall.

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  • Keith

    What about if its in the tenants lease that they are responsible ?

    • Landlord would still be liable to third parties. But there would be fight on indemnification between tenant and landlord.

      • Neil

        I am currently considering signing a lease where the owner has added a line stating that snow removal in front of the building is my responsibility.  Do you mind explaining more about what this means?

        • guru

          the landlord can ask you to sign anything, but just because he/she is lazy, doesnt make it legal!

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  • Brad blodget

    What about snow and ice on a town or state-owned sidewalk in front of one’s home. I my particular case, the town always send out a sidewalk plow, but they never sand the walk. I don’t believe it is my rersponsibility to sand it? Am I correct?


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