We’ve had a few major snowstorms already this year and will likely have a few more before the winter is over. If you own a single family residence or investment property in MA, it’s important to be aware of Massachusetts snow removal laws. This can help you avoid being ticketed and/or lawsuits.
MA Snow Removal Laws for Single Family Homeowners
Homeowners in Massachusetts are responsible for making pathways in and out of the home safe for visitors. This includes clearing driveways and walkways to entrances of the home. Although rules on public sidewalks can vary by city/town, most require homeowners to clear sidewalks abutting their property. After all, visitors to your home would need to use those sidewalks anyway.
City/town laws also dictate how quickly you must remove snow and ice from your property. If snow stops falling before dark, homeowners are generally expected to clear snow that evening. For night-time snow storms, it should be cleared in the morning. Some cities/towns require snow to be removed within a certain number of hours, ranging from 3 to 10 hours. As a rule of thumb, property owners should clear snow as soon as reasonably possible.
Language of the Law
“If a property owner knows or reasonably should know of a dangerous condition on its property arising from an accumulation of snow or ice, the property owner owes a duty to lawful visitors to make reasonable efforts to protect lawful visitors against the danger.”
You will need to determine what snow and ice removal efforts are reasonable in light of the expense they impose on the landowner and the probability and seriousness of the foreseeable harm to others. The snow removal reasonably expected of a property owner will depend on the amount of foot traffic to be anticipated on the property, the magnitude of the risk reasonably feared, and the burden and expense of snow and ice removal. Therefore, while an owner of a single-family home, an apartment house owner, a store owner, and a nursing home operator each owe lawful visitors to their property a duty of reasonable care, what constitutes reasonable snow removal may vary among them.
Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., 457 Mass. 368, 383-84 (2010).
Snow Removal Rules for Multi-family Property Owners
Massachusetts snow removal laws contain specific provisions for multi-family property owners. Basically, owners are responsible for snow removal in order to make it safe for occupants and visitors. This applies to exterior access routes both shared among multiple units and/or dedicated to specific units. This makes sense since property owners would ultimately be responsible for any injuries that occur on the property as a result of snow and ice.
Snow removal can be inconvenient for landlords and some attempt to pass this responsibility on to tenants as terms of a lease. Unfortunately, this may not be legal. Landlords may be able to include such terms only if the pathways in question are dedicated to a particular unit rather than shared among all units. Even so, landlords remain legally responsible for clearing snow. It’s the landlord that would be fined by the city/town for failure to do so, and the landlord would also be liable in case of injury to visitors or occupants of the property. So, passing the task on to a tenant is risky given that liability still remains with the landlord.
Best Practices for Complying with Massachusetts Snow Removal Laws
As a rule of thumb, you should remove snow from all walkways, driveways, and sidewalks as soon as possible during and after a snow storm. Make sure conditions are safe for pedestrians at all times. This applies whether you are a single family or multi-family property owner. If you are unable to perform this task yourself, consider hiring a snow removal company to do it on your behalf. This will help you avoid fines by your city/town and injuries that could result in an expensive lawsuit.
Since specific laws may vary in different cities and towns, contact your local department of public works for specific rules that may apply to you. The above information is meant to be a general overview of Massachusetts sow removal laws, but should not be construed as legal advice. If you have legal questions about your specific property or lease agreements, contact a local attorney for advice.