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UPDATE: Does Royal Oak Require Shoveling Snow Off Sidewalks?

You ask, Patch answers.

Royal Oak property owners aren't legally required to remove snow from their sidewalk. Credit: Patch File Photo
Royal Oak property owners aren't legally required to remove snow from their sidewalk. Credit: Patch File Photo

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Patch reader Chris writes: I noticed that on Crooks Road from 12 Mile to 13 Mile there are a lot of patches of sidewalk that have not been shoveled.  This includes business like gas stations, a grocery store and other businesses.  There are students that walk home from the middle school northward and from the high school southward that walk these sidewalks. They were very icy today and have shown no signs of ever having the snow cleared since the storm.  On two occasions I've seen elderly women walking in the street to avoid the sidewalk.  

Is there a city ordinance requiring shoveling snow off the sidewalks and if so, why isn't it being enforced?

City Attorney Dave Gillam addressed the issue of shoveling sidewalks at the Dec. 16 Royal Oak City Commission meeting. Here's what he said:

Royal Oak does not have an ordinance for clearing sidewalks. 

"The justification for that is because case law has made clear that natural accumulation of snow and ice on a public sidewalk is not something that  a community can be held civilly liable for," Gillam said. "On the other hand, if a community requires some action to be taken to clear the sidewalk and the action that’s taken does give rise to a dangerous condition, then the city can be held liable for requiring the action to have been taken in the first place."

Though Royal Oak property owners aren't legally required to remove snow from their sidewalk, the Michigan Insurance Review says it's still a good idea.

"As a homeowner you are liable for anyone who slips and falls on your property even if it is on the sidewalk," notes the Michigan Insurance Review. "Regardless of how much traffic your sidewalk gets, just one slip and fall can be a huge home owner’s insurance claim. Depending on how severe the injuries are, you could be looking at your full liability limit. Keep your sidewalk clear of snow and spread salt and or sand to prevent ice related slip and falls."

UPDATE: As a follow up, a reader wants to know if State law requires clearing your sidewalk of snow.

Here's what Gillam had to say:

"I’m not aware of any State law requiring a property owner to clear snow from sidewalk in front of his/her property."

A property owner could have civil liability for failing to clear his or her sidewalk if a pedestrian fell and was injured, Gillam said, but that’s a separate issue.

Todd January 14, 2014 at 09:26 PM
Neighboring cities Troy, Berkley, Clawson, and Madison Heights, all do. I don't understand since we have ordinances for mowing grass or sidewalk repairs. I understand this would be a challenge to enforce but I purpose making homes that are located near our schools do shovel. If not, these area's should be monitored and then given a citation if not. Since the Royal Oak Schools got rid of our buses, more kids walk to school then ever.
Jim Nasium January 14, 2014 at 11:03 PM
Judy, You may want to check in with Charlie Langton of WWJ as be did a story in which he reported that Michigan law states youre responsible for clearing your sidewalk of snow. Now I'm confused Jim
Ron Arnold January 15, 2014 at 07:46 AM
I keep my RO corner lot sidewalks pretty clear and I salt regularly. During the recent sidewalk replacement assessment on the south end, I've been tagged for almost 20 replacement squares. They ordinance says that I have to pay for the squares, but I've been told that even then, it's not my sidewalk. I see it as city-owned property (they "own" the sidewalk and the easement to the street), so they can either maintain it OR I can (and assume the responsibility for a fall on "my" property.) Not both ways, I'm afraid.
Barb Oakes January 15, 2014 at 08:05 AM
those who do not clear their walks are so inconsiderate of walkers, runners, the letter carrier!
Judy Davids (Editor) January 15, 2014 at 04:47 PM
@Jim, Royal Oak City Attorney Dave Gillam has responded to your question. I've updated the story.
jeanne dolson January 15, 2014 at 06:09 PM
I think it would be a good idea to start asking our city commission to look into our neighboring cities ordinances. We definitely need one at the very least for all properties on Mile roads and the main north/south roads! I have requested my corner gas station, Marathon at 11/Campbell to clear their sidewalk and they just chuckle. I don't patronize them anymore.
Nathan January 15, 2014 at 10:55 PM
I always clear my walks but, as a matter of curiosity, can you further investigate how we as property owners are liable for people getting injured on a sidewalk that is considered a public easement without a law to enforce it to be cleared? Unless of course it's somehow not considered that in RO, in which it's private property and we could just revoke the right to pass and people enter at their own risk. I'm guessing this is why other cities have ordinances to shovel because they realized this or have been burned by it before.
The Other Stefan January 16, 2014 at 09:24 AM
Every city I've ever lived in has had an ordinance requiring property owners to shovel their sidewalks... It's hard to believe a city that is known for it's walkable downtown does not do more for pedestrians
Bob January 16, 2014 at 05:31 PM
Since there is no ordinance to shovel, can I put up an obstacle course to impede foot traffic on "my/not my" sidewalk? How about tires to run through or string about 12" above the pavement to step over? Barbed wire to crawl under is an option or a wall to climb. The possibilities are endless.
Patrick T January 19, 2014 at 09:08 AM
Homeowners' associations can also create those rules, though that wouldn't help major roads. Maybe they could do an "adopt a road" snow shoveling program or something. People should do the right thing, but I'm a big fan of "less is more" when it comes to government and city ordinances. If you're away for the weekend and it snows unexpectedly, should you be ticketed and get uninvited "help" from the city removing your snow? Even for drifting or re-frozen melt? And who defines "clear of snow"? In Clawson they even require you to clear a path "where the sidewalk would be" if there is no sidewalk! So what, I should run a snowblower over my grass?! I guess I'd rather put up with a few discourteous people than live under the thumb of the Snow Police. Just my opinion, from someone who walks around his downtown all the time.
Denise Nash January 19, 2014 at 11:53 AM
I live in Northville and we have an ordinance that says we have to clear snow from our walks within 48 hours, and no hazards such as ice are allowed without covering with sand, etc. We got a warning stuffed in our mailbox once, for a small patch of ice that was no more than 8 inches across, where our sidewalk dips (yes, city maintains the sidewalks!). We had killed ourselves to get rid of the big snow that happened the day before. Our next door neighbor had not cleared their walks all winter and it was all ice, about 4 inches deep covering their sidewalks. To say we were ticked off doesn't cover it! LOL. Ordinarily, however, if it's a snow large enough to have a snow-thrower out, whoever is out first gets everybody's walks. I shovel by hand, it's great exercise!
l.c. February 01, 2014 at 11:11 AM
now we know who the real pedestrian friendly cities are and they don't brag about it come election time.shame on R.O. politicians.

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