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Snow-Removal Laws: A State-Level Summary

Snow-Removal Laws: A State-Level Summary
By Richard Dahl on January 15, 2020 1:06 PM

If you've ever been in Boston or some other cramped northeastern city after a snowfall, you may have seen the chaos firsthand.

After they shovel out their cars parked on the street, residents claim those spots as their own by plunking down traffic cones, lawn chairs, or any number of other cheap objects. Obviously, you can't claim a portion of public street as your own, but they do it anyway. And woe to anyone who chooses to remove the marker and park their car in those spaces.

For most of the rest of the country, snow removal isn't quite so dramatic. But it can still be a bit nerve-wracking.

While most cities and towns remove snow from streets, sidewalks and walkways mostly remain the responsibility of residents and business owners. Most municipalities require that residents and business owners perform the snow removal themselves or cover the cities' costs in doing so.

But the rules and requirements governing sidewalk snow removal vary from city to city and state to state.

Here are a few examples:

  • Connecticut's law states that residents and property owners may be liable for injuries that happen on public sidewalks that are not properly shoveled or de-iced. Anyone who is injured in that way has two years from the date of the injury to bring suit.
  • New Jersey, on the other hand, places no responsibility on single-family homeowners to clear snow and ice from sidewalks. However, if homeowners make conditions more dangerous than would be the case naturally, they may be liable for injuries.
  • Illinois falls somewhere in between Connecticut and New Jersey by more or less offering a reward to people who clear sidewalks. The state law governing snow removal states that "it is undesirable for any person to be found liable for damages due to his or her efforts in the removal of snow or ice."
  • Snow-removal ordinances typically require a minimum width to be cleared, but they generally vary from three feet to five feet. Iowa City, Iowa, however, says the entire widths of sidewalks must be cleared.
  • Fines also vary. Chicago's levies range from $50 to $500 per case. Boston's fines range from $50 to $200 per day.
  • Time windows when residents and business owners are expected to clear snow also vary. In Portland, Maine, the limit is 24 hours after the conclusion of a storm; if they haven't done the job by then, the city will step in and do it — and assess a levy to cover the cost. In Madison, Wisconsin, property owners have until noon on the day following the conclusion of a snowstorm, after which time the city will do it and charge them.

When Shoveling, Be Aware of Risks

As winter tightens its icy grip and inflicts us with snow and ice, many of us have no choice but to grab shovels and clear paths for our neighbors. And although you've probably heard this a thousand times, it's worth repeating: When you're shoveling snow, exercise caution.

According to the Harvard Health Blog, about 100 people — mostly men — die during of after shoveling snow each year in the U.S., and many more are treated at hospitals for chest pains.

The American Heart Association reminds shovelers to follow a few tips to reduce the risk: Take rest breaks, use small shovels, and avoid alcohol before and after shoveling.

Or maybe you could avoid all the trouble by hiring neighborhood kids to do the job for an agreeable price. That way, you could just comfortably relax indoors and dream about the coming of spring.

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