Ask an Edina Realty Lawyer: Am I required by law to clear snow and ice from my sidewalk?

Homeownership can be complicated, but we also think it’s one of the most rewarding ventures out there. In our series Ask an Edina Realty Lawyer, we are hoping to demystify some of the trickier aspects of buying, selling and owning a home.

In this edition, one of our lawyers discusses the obligations you may have to shovel city-owned sidewalks, as well as the liabilities.

Dear Edina Realty Legal,

I’ve heard that I don’t own the sidewalk in front of my house. Apparently, the city owns it. If that’s the case, why do I have to shovel it?

What you’ve heard is most likely correct. Most sidewalks that are adjacent to city streets are actually public property. Cities typically own a right of way that includes not only the street itself, but also the land adjacent to the roadway. This usually includes the sidewalk and, in some municipalities, even extends some distance past the sidewalk.

So, why do you have to shovel?

  • Most cities have an ordinance (a law) that requires the property owner to keep the sidewalk free of snow and ice.
  • These ordinances give the homeowner a limited amount of time, e.g., 24 hours, after the storm event has ceased to remove the accumulated snow and ice.
  • If the homeowner fails to clear the sidewalk in a timely manner, the city may take action to remove the snow and ice and charge the owner for the cost. On top of that cost, municipalities may issue a fine to the property owners.
  • Because the sidewalk is public property, a homeowner might not be responsible for injuries occurring on it. But perhaps more important than legal liability is being a good neighbor. You don’t want to be the cause of a friend or a neighbor getting injured.

While we’re on the subject . . .

Speaking of potential liability issues, it is important to properly maintain your property to protect yourself against legal action. Here are some things to think about:

  • While you might not face liability for an injury on a sidewalk within a right-of-way, the same cannot be said for the stairs and sidewalks located on your property. Be sure to keep those areas free of ice and snow and other debris. The general rule is that you have a reasonable time after the precipitation stops to remove snow and ice.
  • Watch out for any other potentially dangerous conditions on your property and, if you can’t eliminate the dangers, make sure that other people visiting your property are aware of them as well. While you may be fully aware of a hole in your yard, your children’s friends may not be.
  • Trampolines and swimming pools are fun, but can also be the source of legal liability if accidents occur.
  • Maintain control of your dog. If your dog bites a guest, you are likely to be held responsible. With limited exceptions, a dog owner is strictly liable for dog bites.

Much of your potential liability is covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy. But that policy has dollar limits. If you have significant assets, you might want to look into buying an umbrella policy that can provide increased coverage.

The Edina Realty Legal Department serves as in-house counsel for Edina Realty and does not represent private clients. This Insight is not intended to provide legal advice.