By Edgar Snyder, Esq.
Spring is right around the corner, but winter weather still can arrive quickly and unexpectedly. If you’re widowed or recently divorced, you may shoulder many responsibilities. Taking care of your property is no exception.
Removing snow and ice is necessary to help protect yourself and anyone living in your household from falling and sustaining injuries. You also will help protect your legal rights if someone else injures themself while on your property.
Removing Snow and Ice: Am I Responsible?
Owning a home versus renting a home – who’s responsible for removing snow and ice?
If you own your home…
Homeowners are responsible for keeping their property safe – that includes removing winter weather hazards. If a visitor falls on your property because you didn’t shovel and salt your walkway, you could be responsible for covering those injuries. Additionally, you could be held liable for injuries caused by falling icicles or patches of ice that form near downspouts.
If you have homeowner’s insurance, your policy will cover the costs if you or someone else is injured, up to the maximum amount you’ve selected. If the medical bills are higher than your coverage, you can be held personally responsible for those costs.
If you rent…
If you rent your home, you may or may not be responsible for removing ice and snow.
- If you rent or lease a single family home, you likely are responsible for taking care of snow and ice.
- If you live in an apartment complex with several other units, the landlord or property management company should be responsible for removing snow and ice. Read your rental agreement thoroughly – there may be a clause in the contract stating you must take care of snow and ice removal.
- If you live in a retirement community or rent from a company that manages properties, they may take care of removing ice and snow.
Failing to remove snow and ice also can result in fines and even court costs. Many cities and municipalities have laws for removing ice and snow within a certain time frame. For example, the City of Pittsburgh stipulates that residents must shovel and salt their sidewalks within 24 hours, or within a “reasonable amount of time.”
If you don’t know the law for your area, call your local municipality office to find out.
Tips for Keeping Your Home Safe
As a person who may be divorced or widowed, there are several things you can do to prevent injuries on your property:
- Watch for spouts coming from the roof – they can cause ice patches or dangerous icicles. If a downspout is near a sidewalk or driveway, take extra caution to clear it.
- Being out of town is no exception. Arrange to have someone else clear your sidewalks and driveways if you can’t do it yourself.
- If you have icicles hanging from your home, block off the area with orange cones or brightly colored construction tape until you can remove them.
- Make sure your property is well lit. If you have lights with motion sensors, check that they detect movement early enough to illuminate walkways and driveways.
What to Do if You Fall
Just as you’re responsible for your own property, other homeowners and business owners are responsible for theirs. If they neglect to remove snow and ice and you’re injured, seek medical attention right away. Document the exact time and location of the fall with emergency personnel. Take photos of the location where you fell and any hazards that could have caused your injuries. If there were any witnesses, get their contact information.
If the property owner is there, tell them you fell and get their contact information, but don’t accuse the person of being at fault.
Protect Yourself and Your Financial Future
Understanding your responsibilities in removing snow can help prevent serious injuries – to you and other people on your property. Taking care of winter hazards will help protect your legal rights and your financial security. Review your homeowner’s insurance policy or check your lease agreement, and be proactive to keep your home safe.
Attorney Edgar Snyder has served the residents of western Pennsylvania and its surrounding regions for over 45 years. His law firm, Edgar Snyder & Associates, has represented over 40,000 people, including clients who were injured in slip and fall accidents. For more information, visit EdgarSnyder.com.