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Snow Removal

“Living in Ohio during the winter has its inherent dangers....” Andy Douglas Ohio Supreme Court
 .... still there may be a way to get help.

“Living in Ohio during the winter has its inherent dangers...” 

In 1979, the Ohio Supreme Court decided that landlords are not responsible to remove "natural accumulations" of snow and in 1993, Justice Andy Douglas warned us of "inherent dangers." In fact, there's an "urban myth" that claims property owners are more likely to be sued if they attempt to clear a sidewalk for tenants, guests, or passersby. Newcomers to Ohio are often shocked to learn that, in Ohio, snow removal is not part of a landlord's duty to keep the common areas safe and sanitary. What's a tenant to do?

For starters, keep in mind that landlords are not prohibited from doing snow removal and many landlords accept that duty, especially in senior housing. Tenants should ask about snow removal policies when shopping for a rental home. Don't assume and don't wait til the snow flies to ask. 

Local ordinances can sometimes help. 2014 was an unusually snowy year in Ohio and there was an upsurge of demands for more enforcement of city sidewalk codes. Two problems to keep in mind. 
  • Most municipalities don't warn or cite property owners for an uncleared sidewalk without a complaint from a citizen.
  • Second problem is: where should you complain? In most cities enforcement of sidewalk cleaning ordinances is covered by more than one department. That means citizens often get switched from one department to another. Solution to this problem is: call the mayor, law director or councilperson and let them figure out who's doing enforcement. If no response from an elected official, go to the newspapers. When snow is in the headlines, news media are always on the lookout for "human interest" stories.
  • Then, too, municipal ordinances only cover snow removal of public right ways--the sidewalks along the street. Still, if a landlord is paying to have the sidewalk done, there's a good chance he/she does the walks and drives on the property at the same time.
Federal Fair Housing Act may be of assistance if a tenant has a disability and requires assistance with snow removal. A case in 2014 proves the point.  When a tenant with a disability needs a modification of a rule, policy or procedure, the tenant can ask for a reasonable accommodation from the landlord. Don't wait til you trip and fall, make the reasonable accommodation request promptly and file a complaint with HUD or the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) before you trip or slip and fall.

Some years ago, at Cedar Oaks Apartments in Canton, a HUD subsidized development for persons with disabilities, the tenant organization developed a snow removal plan that included sidewalk clearing, salting, and parking lot plowing. Snow mountains created by plow drivers were a big issue. In the plan, plow drivers were instructed to push snow into a vacant lot, not up on to sidewalks or around vehicles. Management said NO! (as in..."you can't tell us how to run our property.") So tenants filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. It took a year to settle, but during that winter, tenants documented the barriers created by poor snow removal and hospital reports of "slip and fall" accidents. At OCRC, the next spring, tenants got a favorable settlement. Four days before Thanksgiving here at RHINO headquarters and we have four inches of whiteness already. 

Unlike the winter of 2015, this winter is forecast to be snowy and cold--more like 2014. Getting started on snow removal issues can't start too soon.
posted November 20, 2016
There's more on reasonable accommodation here
 What you need to know
  • Does the tenant have a mobility impairment or other disability?
  • Is the property Federally assisted?
  • Is the jurisdiction (local government) federally assisted?
  • Does the attempt to remove snow create barriers to persons with disabilities?

The basics

  • LaCourse v. Fleitz is the Ohio Supreme Court decision landlords rely on to avoid snow removal.
  • Cities can enforce sidewalk-shoveling laws  (see below)
Sure, you're supposed to clear your sidewalks, but Columbus never issues citations

Kerry hit with $50 fine for not shoveling his sidewalk in Boston

Cities don’t enforce sidewalk-shoveling laws

First step
find out what is the policy on snow removal. Many owners are trying to help their tenants.

Step two
1.  Document the problem with photos, statements from tenants and caregivers.
2.  Give a written statement to owner/agent citing one or more of the following concerns
a.  compliance with city codes for sidewalks
b.  create a fire hazard
c.  address the needs of tenants, guests with mobility impairments
d.  fail to live up to the landlord duty to keep the premises safe.  5321.04 (a) (3)

Next steps if landlord fails to correct the problem
1.  Individuals with mobility impairments may make a reasonable accommodation request for snow/ice removal

2.  Individuals (tenants, family members, social service providers) may ask the City to help by talking to or citing the owner.  Don't forget to touch base with the fire department if lack of snow removal threatens fire lanes on the property and/or access to fire hydrants.

3.  Contact the media.  Newspapers and radio/TV.  Don't forget social media, especially when the property or the owner has a facebook page.
  Public opinion is on your side.

Next year make plans early
Tenant organizations can start planning for snow removal in September Make a list of problems that tenants (family members and providers) encountered in the past and meet with owner or manager to get commitments before the snow arrives.  Example;  "NO ICE MOUNTAINS between the parking lot and the building."

Notes & Links

Reasonable Accommodation

Municipal ordinances

Subpages (1): Municipal ordinances