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Massachusetts snow removal laws and liability

Dec 05 2018

Keep those shovels ready

Winter ShovelingWinter is underway and we’ve already had the first snow fall of the season. If you own residential or commercial property, it’s essential to understand your legal responsibilities regarding snow removal. The state you live in has laws that dictate snow removal and in many cases, your city or town may have local ordinances or by-laws that further define snow and ice removal responsibilities.

In 2010, Massachusetts snow removal law underwent a major change with a Supreme Judicial Court Ruling that overturned a 100+ year old Massachusetts Rule that previously allowed property owners to not shovel “natural accumulations” of snow without liability. With the change in the law, all property owners (owner occupied and rental) now have a legal obligation to keep their property free from snow and ice for the safety of visitors and guests…whether it’s “natural” or “unnatural” accumulations.

When do you have to shovel or treat icy surfaces?

Because of the dangers caused by snow and ice, it’s wise to shovel and treat surfaces as quickly as possible. If a danger exists, you have liability. Some cities and towns specify a minimum time by which surfaces must be cleared after a storm, but you may need to clean snow sooner; i.e. Boston -  businesses 3 hours and residents 6 hours; Worcester – 12 hours.

Do you have to shovel sidewalks in front of your house/business?

Most Massachusetts cities and towns require property owners to clear sidewalks, but also check your city or town ordinances. Often you can be fined for failing to remove snow.  Also remember that shoveling snow out into the street is not allowed and is a fineable offense.

Can you transfer responsibility for shoveling to tenants?

Landlords have the primary responsibility for snow removal at rental properties, which can’t be transferred by language in a lease. Property owners are responsible by law to keep all egresses free of obstruction. The only exception is when a dwelling has its own egress that is not shared with other units. In this case, a landlord may require in a lease for the tenant to be responsible for snow and ice removal of the entrance. However, this exception does not apply to the driveway or parking areas and so may not guarantee transfer of liability in some situations. It’s probably not worth taking a chance and relying on the tenant.

Do homeowners, dwelling fire and commercial general liability policies cover injuries if someone slips and falls?

Typically, yes. Standard policies generally cover you if someone slips and falls on your property.  Be sure you purchase sufficient liability coverage of at least $500,000 or $1,000,000. For many homeowners, the additional cost to increase coverage to $1,000,000 is very small. When a lawsuit happens, you can never have enough insurance…ask any attorney!

Helpful Links

Massachusetts Law about Snow & Ice

New Hampshire Law about Snow & Ice

City of Boston Snow Center

Ayer – Snow Removal Guidelines

Bolton – DPW

Hudson – Winter Tips & Parking Ban

Groton – Snow Policy

Littleton – Winter Snow Removal Operations

Marlborough – Snow & Ice Removal FAQ

Maynard – Snow & Sidewalk Plowing Policy

Medway – Snow & Ice Management Policy

Mendon – Highway Department

Northborough Snow & Ice Removal

Worcester Snow DPW

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