Winter is here in full effect, and if this month’s weather is any indication, we’re in for a long, icy, and snowy season. Whether you’re a renter, a homeowner, or a landlord, it’s important to understand your legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to snow removal at residential and commercial properties in Massachusetts.
Back in 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that all property owners are legally obligated to remove ice and snow from their properties because the standard of care for incidents involving snow and ice shouldn’t differ from the standard of care owed by a landlord in other situations involving premises liability.
So, what does this mean? Even though walking on snow and ice might seem like obvious dangers, property owners, including landlords, still have to make their properties safe; and except in limited circumstances, this isn’t a responsibility that landlords can transfer onto their tenants. This doesn’t mean that property owners have to stay outside and engage in nonstop shoveling during a blizzard. The required snow removal has to be reasonable depending on the amount of foot traffic expected on the property, the degree of risk of injury, and the burden and expense of snow and ice removal.
While it’s best to clear snow and ice as quickly as possible, snow removal guidelines vary by city and town. For example, homeowners in Boston must clear snow from their sidewalks within three hours after snowfall, whereas homeowners in Avon don’t. Businesses in Norwood have to clear the snow within six hours of snowfall, whereas businesses in Harwich don’t. You should check the regulations in your city or town to ensure you’re complying with them- and to avoid being fined.
It’s important to note that clearing the snow from the ground doesn’t prohibit a property owner from being held liable for someone’s injury. However, a plaintiff would still need to prove negligence. But in the interest of everyone’s safety, if you’re a property owner, it’s best to clear the snow as quickly as possible.