snow removal laws rentals

With the cold seasons just around the corner, and snowstorms on the docket already in some parts of the nation, property owners need to have a plan in place for snow season. In fact, all residents that live in a snow zone need to have a snow plan well before the first flake falls.

If you own or manage a rental property you may be wondering who is responsible for snow removal – landlord or tenant?

I hate to break it to you, but the answer is almost as annoying as having to drag yourself out of a cozy bed to start shoveling.

When it comes to landlord vs. tenant snow removal, the answer is … it depends! (Hah, figured it was going to be something vague like that).

Here’s the scoop on snow removal for rental properties.

Depending where you live, your city may or may not have a local ordinance about snow shoveling requirements. Typically, if you own a house (or business) that borders a public walkway or sidewalk, the owner is charged with keeping the sidewalk clear of snow and ice. These rules give time frames for when snow needs to be cleared and failure to comply will result in a fine.  

Often, the time frame is within 24 to 48 hours after the snow has stopped falling. State and municipal laws may also include language about snow removal that includes de-icing procedures like putting salt or sand down after you shovel.

Additionally, when shoveling snow from the sidewalk, it needs to be stored on private property, not simply dumped on the road which is considered public property. Patricia Stell, the city recorder of Bend, OR explains to the Bend Bulletin, “The sidewalk and street is considered a public right of way, and a homeowner can’t dump snow back on the right of way. That means the snow has to be stored on your private property.”

Other snow removal laws can be even more confusing for a property owner, where the owner holds zero liability until he actually moves the snow and then he becomes liable if an accident occurs as the result of snow removal. See this example of snow removal at an apartment complex in Arkansas.

You should also check with local laws regarding parking restrictions on snowy days.

A Landlord’s Responsibility for Snow Removal

While landlords of single-family rental properties can specify in the rental agreement that snow removal as the tenant’s responsibility in most states and provinces, multi-family rental properties often have common walkways that the landlord must maintain, and liability is a real concern.

If you own or manage a multi-unit property, the best course of action is to take on snow removal yourself or hire a service. If you own a single-family rental property, you can include snow removal in your lease agreement as the tenant’s responsibility. When you create the tenant-landlord agreement, it’s important to be clear about when and where the snow needs to be shoveled. For example, you should specify how soon after a snowfall a path needs to be cleared and how wide the path needs to be.

Keep your resident updated on the local laws regarding snow disposal and offer safety tips to reduce the risk of injury while they do it. To ensure regular shoveling of the property, you might want to provide your tenant with a shovel and the salt or sand needed to prevent anyone from slipping on your property post-shoveling.

If you are a renter here’s what you should do when it comes to snow season – Check your lease! The lease should expressly state who is responsible for snow removal. Your landlord should be familiar with the local laws about time frames for shoveling snow. If you are lucky, a super nice landlord may state in the lease that they will come shovel the sidewalks for you! Your landlord or property manager may also have rules in place that prevent snow removal because that could make the property owner liable if an accident occurs. Now is the time to check in with your landlord or property manager so you know what to do before a snowstorm hits.

Snow Removal in Your Lease Agreements

Proper wording on the lease agreement can help eliminate a lot of confusion on who is responsible for snow removal. The lease agreement should reflect the state or municipal laws on snow removal and clearly define any details concerning time and so forth. If your lease agreement doesn’t include language about snow removal responsibilities, create an addendum that expressly discusses it and make sure both of you sign it.  Make sure to have your lease agreement reviewed with an attorney who is familiar with landlord-tenant laws and snow removal requirements in your area.

Learn more about snow removal laws in your state:

The Complete Guide to Snow Removal Laws by State

This article has been updated and was originally published on November 17, 2016

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