MAR General Counsel, Michael McDonagh; and Counsel Justin Davidson share some questions with answers about snow removal they’ve received through the Legal Hotline recently.
Q. My client owns a rental property and insists that he has no responsibility for removal of snow except for clearing the sidewalks as required by a municipal ordinance. Is he correct?
A. No. Even though there have only been a few minor snow storms so far this winter, the issue is still very relevant. The usual rule is that it is the responsibility of the homeowner or landlord to keep means of egress free of snow and ice. The State Sanitary Code provides that, “the owner shall maintain all means of egress at all times in a safe, operable condition and shall keep all exterior stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies and bridges free of snow and ice.”
If the residence has its own means of egress, meaning it is not shared with other occupants, the landlord and tenant can agree to allocate the responsibility of maintaining such egress free of snow and ice to the tenant. Therefore, in situations where there is a single or multi-family home and the occupant has its own exclusive means of egress, be sure to review the lease to determine who is responsible for keeping exclusive means of egress clear of snow.
Q. As a property owner, do I have a legal obligation to remove snow and ice from my property?
A. Yes. All Massachusetts property owners have a duty to use “reasonable care” for the protection of visitors, and are legally responsible for the removal of snow and ice from their property. In terms of liability, homeowners should be aware of the 2010 SJC ruling of Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. That case expanded the duty of property owners to remove snow and ice from their property and definitively held that Massachusetts property owners have a duty to use “reasonable care” for the protection of visitors, and are legally responsible for the removal of snow and ice from their property.
The Court did not define “reasonable care”, and the duty of the property owner will depend on the specific situation. It is recommended that every property owner should take care to do the following: (1) review insurance policies to be sure that there is adequate coverage; (2) determine whether contractors or others hired to remove snow and ice have insurance; and (3) be vigilant when there is newly fallen snow, melting or freezing. If complete clearing is not possible, warning signs may be appropriate. Clients that have specific questions regarding their duty to clear snow should consult their attorney.