Brett Kepley: Yes, towns can require shoveling public walks

Brett Kepley: Yes, towns can require shoveling public walks


In last week's installment of our dramatic legal saga on snow shoveling, we discussed the lack of a general duty in Illinois for property owners to keep their property free of the danger of the natural accumulation of snow or ice.

Today we ask: What are the local laws that can make private real-estate owners shovel public sidewalks?

Yes, that's right, from time to time, your local government may require property owners to remove snow from public sidewalks that are next to the landowner's property line. The public policy behind making owners remove such snow is that the snow and ice is a declared nuisance that the citizenry must help the government abate so as to promote the general welfare.

Huh? What?

Make public sidewalks passable so that people can walk their dogs. And such.

It is cost-prohibitive, not to mention logistically impossible, for city maintenance crews to plow all the linear feet of snow off all the linear feet of public sidewalks in our very linear-laid-out municipalities (except for Boston, which has not one linear street in its downtown; it's all a mass of concentric, circling streets — you know — from the days before the American Revolution.)

Fines might be imposed upon the owner if they fail to comply with the requirements to shovel. Some ordinances may require the owner to reimburse the city its costs for the clearing if the owner did not get it cleared after being warned by the city to do so.

When is one required to shovel? Many ordinances set a boundary area in the city of those properties that subject the owners to shoveling, with a minimum height of snow or ice accumulation (typically in excess of 2 inches), with a deadline to complete (typically one or two days after the city authorities make a public pronouncement to clean — i.e., after all expected precipitation has ended and the minimum amount of accumulation has occurred).

Oh, by the way, many ordinances say the public pronouncement can't be made so that the enforcement period begins on weekends or holidays. Apparently, snow isn't so big a nuisance as to interrupt Christmas at Grandma's.

Only when all conditions listed in the ordinance are met is the property owner required to start shoveling. And you can't shovel the snow onto the street or the neighbor's portion of the sidewalk.

What if I, the property owner, am not physically capable of personally removing Mother Nature's offensive deposit?

Tough. Hire it done.

What if I am on fixed income which is entirely consumed by necessary living expenses and so can't afford it?

Tough. No exceptions. So say the city gods.

What if I can't get a contractor right away because everybody is hiring at the same moment? Tough again. But city enforcers are not likely to be immediately chasing offenders after a big winter storm. Just do your best to get 'er done soon as you can.

So, there it is, property owners. Check your local ordinance to see if you are subject to the municipal gods' rule of shoveling public sidewalks for — you know — dog walking. And such.

Dog walking, of course, involves shoveling of a different sort.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.

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GLG wrote on January 14, 2018 at 8:01 am

Non violent inmates from the county jail should be used for sidewalk snow removal.

Problem solved.

rsp wrote on January 14, 2018 at 9:01 am

Because slave labor is so appealing to you? Someone in jail not convicted of a crime should be forced to do odd jobs? Why not include it under public service work for those who have been convicted and are healthy?

GLG wrote on January 14, 2018 at 10:01 am

You are a convicted criminal in the county jail, we are paying for your housing, food, health care. You want to eat? Pick up a snow shovel and get going! You don't want to do that ? Keep your nose clean and stay out of jail!  Shoveling snow would be the first real work many of these inmates have ever done.

cwakefld wrote on January 20, 2018 at 6:01 pm

I will not argue the merits of shoveling snow. But it bears metioning that the vast majority of inmates in this, or any, county jail are awaiting trial and as such have not been convicted of the crime they are being held on.

map89 wrote on January 20, 2018 at 9:01 am

I think this is a big step in the right direction.  I would also like to see a work requirement for able-bodied welfare recipients.  This could be some type of public service work, not "hard labor", for a few hours a day while children are in school.  This could actually give the recipient a feeling of accomplishment.  I have been in the social service field and have seen too many instances where the cycle of dependence on public assistance becomes a way of life.  This could be a chance to show a person they actually can work and take care of themselves and their families.  

rsp wrote on January 20, 2018 at 5:01 pm

There is a work requirement for able-bodied welfare recipients. Most are kids, or the disabled. Then there are those who are working but can't make ends meet. It used to be people were "punished" for asking for help by having to wait hours in offices to see someone. Then they would want some paperwork and you had to go someplace else and wait to get the paperwork. People would ask why you couldn't look for a job, but you had a job. It was called waiting.

Sure, go get a job, stop waiting. But then you child gets sick. There's no food for weeks until you get paid. And then there was child care. It wasn't the lack of dignity, it was the lack of humanity.