Snowmageddon 2011. What’s a landlord to do? Well, that depends on where the landlord’s property is located. The Chicago Sun Times ran a story reminding property owners about the obligation to shovel snow on their sidewalks within the City of Chicago. My friend Tim Tomasik from the Clifford Law Offices was even quoted in the story advising folks to shovel.
Considering our “northerly” climate, people might be surprised to learn that, for the most part, there is no obligation on the part of a property owner to remove snow and ice… unless a local municipality imposes such an obligation. (Chicago is one such municipality and Evanston is another, but more on that later). The common law, however, does not impose the duty. Once someone does shovel or remove ice and snow, however, there can be liability if removal is done negligently.
As a result of the fear of liability for snow and ice removal and because the removal of snow and ice is generally thought to be a good thing, the State of Illinois passed the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act (745 ILCS 75). This law provides a liability shield to any party who removes or attempts to remove snow or ice from the sidewalks of a residential (but not commercial) property from liability for personal injuries caused by snowy or icy conditions unless that person’s acts were willful or wanton. Thus, you don’t get a free pass to blow snow wherever you want, but most snow and ice removal done in a reasonable manner will be immune from tort liability.
As for Chicago, Section 10-8-180 of the Chicago Municipal Code contains the requirements for snow removal:
Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any building or lot of ground in the city abutting upon any public way or public place shall remove the snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of such building or lot of ground. If the sidewalk is of greater width than five feet, it shall not be necessary for such person to remove snow and ice from the same for a space wider than five feet. In case the snow and ice on the sidewalk shall be frozen so hard that it cannot be removed without injury to the pavement, the person having charge of any building or lot of ground as aforesaid shall, within the time specified, cause the sidewalk abutting on the said premises to be strewn with ashes, sand, sawdust, or some similar suitable material, and shall, as soon thereafter as the weather shall permit, thoroughly clean said sidewalk. The snow which falls or accumulates during the day (excepting Sundays) before four p.m. shall be removed within three hours after the same has fallen or accumulated. The snow which falls or accumulates on Sunday or after four p.m.
Well, the law mentions owners, lessee’s, tenant’s and occupants, so who has to shovel? Well, the answer is later on in the sentence. Any person “having charge of any building or lot…” So, if the lease is silent, the owner has charge of the building. If a tenant, however, has the responsibility for a building, the tenant may be the liable party (although an argument may still be made that the landlord/building owner remains responsible). The Chicago law sets time limits for removal and guidelines for what kind and amount of removal is appropriate.
Luckily, the law in Chicago also provides a a respite from liability related to the removal of snow. Section 10-8-190 of the Chicago Municipal Code provides:
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. This section does not apply to acts or omissions amounting to wilful or wanton misconduct in such snow or ice removal.
Again, most people removing snow and ice will be insulated from problems if they use their brains. Note however that the law applies to sidewalks. What about stoops and walkways? There is caselaw that provides that sidewalk under the Illinois statute means stoop and areas leading to the sidewalk, but, as with all things legal, this is highly fact specific and requires an analysis of the given situation.
For assistance with landlord tenant issues or with drafting a lease dealing with the requirements of snow removal or other issues, feel free to contact us to see if we might be a match for an engagement.