Interesting Thoughts on Shoveling From A Reader

“Now we have a semi-decent snowfall, I was wondering if you would be interested in/willing to run a post about shoveling the sidewalk.  I was doing some research online this evening to see what homeowners are obliged to do by the city (I have every intention of shoveling, but wanted to know whether I need to run out in the morning before work to buy a shovel, or whether it can wait until after work) and discovered that:

DC law requires all owners to shovel the adjacent sidewalk and steps within 8 daylight hours of the end of the snow fall (DC Code 9-601).  If the owner does not do this, the city must do it, but can sue the owner for costs and a small fine (DC Code 9-605; 9-606).  But according to this Marc Fisher article, the city does not actually go after property owners:

So: just as I was thinking I would buy a shovel after work tomorrow, I came across an article suggesting that in New York savvy homeowners do not shovel, and instead pay any fines they are unlucky enough to get, because, in a nutshell, if you shovel and someone slips and falls, you can be held liable for negligent shoveling, but if you do nothing, it is an open danger, and you cannot be held liable.  This made me recall my wife’s remark while walking the dog this evening that the sidewalk was slippier where someone had shoveled than where there was packed snow to walk on. I think I will chance it and shovel anyway, because I think our elderly neighbors will appreciate it, but perhaps one of your readers knows whether there are similar liability issues in DC.”

32 Comment

  • I’m in law school and took torts last year – trust me, you CAN be sued for not shovelling and you’re more liable if you don’t! There’s a “reasonable person standard” i.e. a normal home owner “knew or should have known” to do it. Better to be safe than sorry! But it’s still a pain having to shovel the walk when it’s so cold out…PS I’m not advocating everybody suing everybody ‘cuz that’s pretty dumb, just offering my two cents….

  • Who is responsible if you are a renter? I felt guilty for not shoveling, but as I renter I have never purchased things like shovels and lawnmowers and I didn’t have any implement to use. Is my landlord expected to drive up here and shovel the sidewalk in front of the house?

  • I’ve been paying the few people who get up and try to make money shoveling. Growing up in New England this is how I afforded every new Nintendo game as a kid. $10-$20 per snow in DC far out weighs the effort you put out & the liablity of making no effort. Then CYA with some salt.

    Ask your neighbors about Marvin (in CH) if you don’t have some one offering to do it.


  • I bought my snow shovel at Target for $8. If you live in a house whether you rent it or own it you can afford a snow shovel, and I feel you’re obligated to shovel the sidewalk.

  • Fenty sent my wife and I, not one, but two fliers informing us what our snow removal responsibilities are. It was pretty explicit and well written. We walk to the Ft Totten Metro on Ft Totten drive and NONE of the apartment complexes have cleared the sidewalks and the result is glacier like conditions.

    The was brought up to Fenty last winter. He indicated that he did not want to come down too hard on folks about this. I think it is inexcusable. If you have elderly or infirm neighbors, give them a hand and shovel thier walks. Other wise get busy on the mayor’s hot line…I am!

  • I definitely feel that it is the building owner’s responsibility to shovel the sidewalk. Just as it is their responsibilty to take care of everything else that needs to be fixed in a home. This is one of the few perks of renting- not having to deal with all the things a home owner is responsible for. If the landlord doesn’t live close by, they should be paying someone to shovel. It is not the renter’s responsibility.

  • Let me add one more rule for those from less snowy climates-if you live in a corner house, it is your responsibility to clear not just the snow on the short part of the sidewalk in front of your house, but also on the longer sidewalk next to the side of your house. With the privilege of a corner lot comes extra shoveling responsibility! I grew up in New England where it was expected that as soon as it snows you will be out shoveling or will be shamed by all of your neighbors. I was amazed when I moved down here how few people bother to shovel.

  • HJ: If you are renting a single-family home (e.g. not a unit in a managed building), then your assumption should be that it is your responsibility to shovel. This is no different than raking leaves, taking out the trash, and keeping the house clean. Do you really think that renters, who are occupying an entire house, should bear no responsibility for basic upkeep? In fact, if you signed a real lease, I can almost guarantee you that shoveling snow, or a general clause covering such basic responsibilities, would be in there.

    At the same time, landlords should ensure that there’s a snow shovel in the house. But shoveling is not “maintenance”, any more than closing the windows when it rains is. And remember: if you expect your landlord to pay someone to shovel snow and rake leaves, then you should also expect them to be passing that cost directly to you in higher rent. Which way do you want it?

  • Just because you live in a managed apartment buidling, does not mean they will shovel walks…though it is their responsibilites. Witness apartment buildings on Ft. Totten drive. Citywide Call center update. When calling to report icy sidewalks be sure to let them know you want to file a complaint, other wise you will wind up in DCRA or Department of Sanitation neverland!

  • I just let the Slightly Confused Watchdog run around in circles to pack down the snow. She eats a lot of it too.

  • Probably makes yellow snow too.

  • I was shocked to see that the CVS on 14th Street hadn’t shoveled the sidewalk as of 11a.m. Thursday! The homes and apartment buildings don’t surprise me (although they infuriate me), but how can a business like CVS completely neglect and disrespect the neighborhood like that? I asked the manager, and he said that the landlord never sent anyone. My thought: So take your own ass out there and do it.

  • Growing up in Long Island, we always shoveled the sidewalk around our property and for any neighbors who are elderly, infirm, or on vacation. It’s just a common courtesy. As for CVS, they are just setting themselves up big time as a target for the slip-N-fall crooks out there looking to make a buck from those types of lawsuits!

  • For the benefit of any other law nerds out there, I should explain the basis for the suggestion that by not shoveling one might not be liable for any slip and falls. Although the law in New York may have changed in the last year or so (there were signs that it might), the reasoning was/is that because the city owns the sidewalks, the city is liable for any injuries. While the city may pass an ordinance that imposes an obligation on property owners to shovel adjacent sidewalks (and fine them if they fail to do so), the city may not transfer liability for injuries sustained on its property merely by passing an ordinance. Folks may disagree with this reasoning, and I have no idea whether DC courts would accept it, but it was for a long time the law in New York, so not totally out of the question.

  • As a new homeowner/someone who’s never lived where there are sidewalks until now, I have a probably stupid question: How long do you wait to start shoveling? On Wednesday morning when I was heading out to work, there really wasn’t enough snow to merit shoveling. But later in the day, it was still snowing heavily- so do you shovel while it is still snowing? Wait until it stops? I’m sure its just commons sense- shovel when there is enough to shovel, but I’m wondering if there are any rules of thumb for politeness that I should be aware of.

    (Yes, I did get the instructions in the mail, but I think that says within 8 hours of the snow stopping, which seems like the far end of the spectrum)

  • I check the weather. When the forcast indicates that the storm is winding down I shovel…presuming I am home. Putting a little rock salt down after you shovel seems to take care of any icing and reduces additional accumulation.

  • New homeowner: it really depends on how much snow is expected. If 16 inches are called for than probably shovel when you’ve got several on the ground. Otherwise wait till it’s over. I had to call 311 on my neighbor the other night who has a corner house but was shoveling at 11:00 at night! I couldn’t believe it. I would rather take my chances on an unshoveled sidewalk than be kept up at night listening to scraping etc. To all those neighbors who are shoveling: do it between 7AM and 9PM or at the latest 10!

  • Anonymous, you’re a douche for calling 311 on your neighbor. I’m the only person on my block who bothered to shovel my sidewalk and would be happy to give up 20 minutes of rest to have a neighbor like yours.

  • I mean, really, how long was the shoveling going on that you couldn’t just wait it out? Surely the snow would be removed at some point right? Good grief.

  • If my neighbors were shoveling at 11:00 pm I would bring them hot chocalate. If they were shoveling at 2am I would through a party! Come on – be happy they were doing it.

  • why should i be happy about being woke up by an overzealous neighbor. a truly good neighbor would have waited until daylight to shovel. on the other hand, i guess it was douchey to do but i hate being woken up. i don’t feel comfortable yelling out the window at the neighbor. i guess by the repsonse i should have waited it out. sorry. in the future i will bring them hot cocoa. or i will move to a place where people aren’t rewarded for doing rude things just because they are less rude than the other neighbors.

  • I shoveled and salted in front of about 8 houses, and would have loved some hot cocoa…

  • Anonymous (the guy calling 311 on his neighbor for shoveling the sidewalk at night) sounds like one of thos yuppie jerks I’ve heard so much about. Thank God I don’t have neighbors like him. I swept the snow off of the sidewalk on my side of the street (the whole block), as well as the front steps and yard sidewalks of a few elderly neighbors. They seemed to appreciate it.

  • You called 311 on your neighbor for doing what is legally required of him? Maybe he leaves for work at 4 am and wanted to get it done, or maybe he works the night shift and this is the time he had free to take care of the sidewalk. Or maybe he did what I did and started shoveling when the snow seemed to be waning so it wouldn’t all freeze overnight!

    Do you call the police as well to complain that their sirens are keeping you up at night?

  • I would still maintain that if you are disturbing the peace even though it is for a legal obligation and there is an opportunity to do it without disturbing the peace you should still be held culpable just as if you are disturbing the peace doing something illegal. Why should I discriminate? I can only call 311 if it is drug dealers keeping me up at night? I think that logic is warped. I am happy that they were shoveling, but it should be done during daylight/early evening hours. There are noise regulations in the city too. Which one should trump? I will not call 311 agian. I acknowledge I made a mistake. Thank you to everyone that made me see the error of my ways. I am not being sarcastic, although it may translate like that. I have an argument for what I did. But I don’t believe anymore that it holds water- or snow for that matter.

  • Good god, Anon, how loud was the shoveling? Was he using a a jackhammer? I”ve heard shoveling late at night too, and it makes me snuggle even deeper in my covers, secure and happy in the fact that come morning, I’m not going to bust my ass walking down the street. And you really can’t be sure that your neighbor had an opportunity to do without disturbing YOUR peace.

    City life sometimes comes with acknowledgment that we’re all living close to each other, and sometimes we make noise. As long as someone was trying to do the right thing, I’d just roll with it. I’m glad you won’t call 311 on your law-abiding neighbors anymore.

  • I, too, have called the authorities on the janitor in the building across from me for shoveling at 4:30am because he is a chronic nuisance on my street. He has also been known to mow the lawn at 3:00am in the summer, use a hammer to for an hour and a half to break up furniture (andresumed it after the police came by), have loud arguements and fist-fights with his drunken cronies, and yell at the squirrels for digging up “his” lawn (I’m not making this up!).

    I agree with Anonymous311, there are noise ordinances in place that prohibit such activity between certain hours in residential neighborhoods be it heavy machinery before 7:00am or a loud party after 11:00pm. Civic duty or no, one should also be aware and considerate of their neighbors.

  • Operative terms here being “chronic nuisance.” Different circumstances merit different responses.

  • Anonymous: You are a jerk, and also an idiot.

    As other said, who knows what his work situation was. But beyond that, there are VERY GOOD reasons to shovel at night. If snowfall has stopped, which in this case it did (around 8 PM) then it’s MUCH EASIER to shovel at night. By morning, the snow often has hardened or may have a crust of ice on it as a result of sunshine melting slightly and refreezing. When people walk over the new snow, it pack it into ice. Kudos to your neighbor, who you scorned, for not only removing snow, but removing it very soon after snowfall stopped, ensuring a safe sidewalk all night long and early in the morning.

    Guy Mondo – mowing the lawn and hammering are one thing. Snow is a legal and safety obligation. I can’t believe that there are actually people so selfish that they get upset about people doing things for the safety of others as a result of a weather condition. I am guessing you’d also call the cops if your neighbors were hammering plywood over their windows at night when a hurricane was coming. Sheesh. I hope I don’t live anywhere near either of you.

  • One other observation – I find it very hard to believe that ANY noise ordinance was violated by the sound of snow shoveling.

    The law restricts noise to 55dbA at night in residential areas and 60dbA during the day. Additionally, snow shoveling is almost certainly covered by the exceptions to the law (if they even exceeded this limit), specifically:

    2704.5 Noise resulting from emergency work shall be exempt at all times.

    Finally, the law in DC requires you to remove snow within EIGHT HOURS after the end of a snowfall. If you DID NOT shovel between 8 PM and 4 AM, you are technically in violation of the DC law.

    So bugger off.

  • I understand now that what I did was a jerky, douchey, idiotic, selfish thing to do. And nothing I say to justify it will convince anyone differently. I appreciate the opinions expressed here and will remember them the next time a neighbor does something that annoys me. I love my neighborhood, but I obviously have very different opinions than most of you when it comes to snow removal. I didn’t think my actions would have caused so much disgust, so in a way I am glad I put it out there. It was enlightening.

  • Anonymous, you are not a jerk or an idiot. I wouldn’t have called 311 but calling you a jerk is over the top. You were a person trying to get some sleep, your neighbor was a guy trying to shovel some snow; lessons learned. It’s all good.

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