LEGAL HOTLINE: Property owner responsibilities for snow removal

Below are Questions and Answers from the Massachusetts Legal Hotline attorneys, Michael McDonagh, Ashley Stolba and  Justin Davidson.

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. 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 that 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 are 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.

ABOUT THE MAR LEGAL HOTLINE

The MAR Legal Hotline offers authorized callers access to staff attorneys who can assist members with questions about current state and federal laws and regulations, permissible business practices, and important court rulings affecting real estate practitioners.  To take advantage of the Legal Hotline service, a member’s designated broker must first complete and sign an Authorization Form and return to the MAR Legal Department.  Once approved as an authorized caller, MAR members may access the Hotline by calling 800-370-LEGAL (5342), sending an e-mail to legalhotline@marealtor.com, or faxing questions to 781-890-4919.  The hours of operation are Monday-Friday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. MAR compiles and publishes the questions and answers to our most popular inquiries, click here for the archives.
2017-05-05T20:26:45+00:00

2 Comments

  1. Margo Pisacano January 27, 2016 at 4:23 am - Reply

    confused between the two answers. 1st says if unit has a private, not shared egress, then landlord and tenant may agree to allocate responsibility

    But below answer saysall owners have a duty to use reasonable care- What if removal was apportioned to the tenant in the lease?

  2. rcastle January 27, 2016 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Thanks Margo for the question.

    The MAR Legal Hotline responded with:

    In situations where there is a single or multi-family home, the occupant has its own exclusive means of egress, and the landlord and tenant have explicitly agreed in writing to allocate the responsibility to keep that agrees clear of snow to the tenant, the duty and liability can be shifted to the tenant and off of the landlord.

Leave A Comment