Snow Rules

Snow.  Hardly surprising given that it is winter in Chicago.  Once the snow covers the sidewalks, it can make daily routines such as walking to the CTA, Metra or bus more challenging.  This is especially true when residents do not shovel their sidewalks.  In Chicago, shoveling is not just the neighborly thing to do, it is also the law.

Municipal Liability

The Chicago City Code mandates that residents must remove snow and ice from the sidewalks around their home or building.  Specifically, section 10-8-180 requires that “every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person in charge” must clear a path on any sidewalks or ramps and the path must be at least 5 feet wide in width.  If the snow falls during the day, the snow must be removed by 10 PM that night and if the snow falls overnight, the snow should be removed by 10 AM the next morning.  These guidelines apply regardless of whether snow falls on a weekday or weekend.

The ordnance sets a range of monetary penalties for failing to shovel snow which can be as little as $50 and as high as $500.  The city notes that the amount of the fine will be considered on a case by case basis, which is determined by an administrative hearing judge.  The fine is municipal and not criminal in nature.  You cannot go to jail for failing to shovel snow and a ticket for failing to clear your sidewalk will not show up on a criminal record.  However, the fine, while more akin to a parking ticket, allows the city to come after you in a civil action or collection proceeding if you fail to pay.

We sometimes get questions from renters about whether it is their responsibility or their landlords for clearing snow.  The ordinance applies to everyone so it is important to check your lease which should state whether it is tenant or landlord responsibility.  If you cannot find any reference to snow removal in your lease, ask your landlord so that responsibility is clear and you do not get stuck with a fine.  And most importantly, remember that we are all neighbors and all people, especially those with limited mobility or the elderly rely on our sidewalks to go about daily life.  So, if you see that your sidewalk or a neighbor’s sidewalk has not been cleared, consider doing the neighborly thing.

Similar rules apply to businesses and can be found in section 4-4-310 of the code.  The city urges residents to report businesses that fail to timely clear their sidewalks by calling 311.

Civil Liability

What happens if someone slips and falls and is seriously injured because a person failed to timely clear the snow or ice from their property?  Can the landowner or renter be held liable for the resulting injuries and damages?  As with much of the law, it depends.  The simple and safest answer is to simply clear the snow.  Under section 10-8-190 of the municipal code, “any person who removes snow or ice from the public sidewalk or street, shall not, as a result of his acts or omissions in such removal, be liable for civil damages.”

For those who fail to clear the snow, the law becomes a little more nuanced.  As a general rule, if someone is injured because of another person’s failure to clear snow and ice from their property, the landowner is usually not held liable for the resulting damages.  In a lawsuit, jurors are instructed by the judge that “the owner or occupant of property is under no duty to remove ice or snow which has resulted from natural accumulations.”  However, if a jury decides that the snow accumulation was unnatural, and a person was injured because of that unnatural accumulation, the responsible party can be held liable.

Many things can lead to an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice.  Sometimes something is blocking the sewer which prevents proper drainage and melting of water which later freezes.  Maybe your sidewalk has a hole which causes water to pool and freeze in one spot.  A few years ago, we handled a case at a larger shopping center where a stop sign had fallen over and was buried in snow.  The owners of the center did not shovel the snow and a shopper tripped over the sign that was not visible under several inches of snow and was seriously injured.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is to maintain your property and make sure there is nothing that will cause a dangerous condition when it snows this winter.  So be a good citizen and clear the snow if you can.