Chicago snowfall can look lovely, but beware: if landlords don’t remove it from the sidewalk next to their apartment buildings in Chicago, the fine will not be so sweet! Under the Chicago snow removal law, apartment buildings, like all businesses, can face fines of $250 to $500 a day for a failure to remove snow accumulation on the public sidewalk next to the property.

And in the summer of 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court clarified that property managers owe a duty to pedestrians to direct the drainage of snow and ice away from the sidewalk so that ice does not accumulate on the sidewalk and cause a hazard.  Here’s what landlords need to know about their legal obligations and how to meet them:

Who is responsible for snow removal on Chicago sidewalks?

According to Section 10-8-180 of Chicago’s Municipal Code, every “owner, lessee, tenant, occupant, or other person in charge of any building . . . abutting upon any public way or public place shall . . . remove any snow and ice from any sidewalk . . .” In short, the Chicago snow removal law states that landlords and property managers have a legal duty to remove the snow and ice from the public sidewalks that run next to the property. 

How much snow accumulation and ice must I remove?

The people responsible for removing snow must clear a path of at least 5 feet in width, making it adequate for wheelchairs to pass and as wide as a crosswalk.

What should you do with the snow you removed from the sidewalk?

If possible, landlords ought to put snow in the parkway between the sidewalk and the street. They're advised against dumping it in the street or the entrance to an alley, and not in a way that would bury fire hydrants, either.

How much time do you have to clear it? 

Under the Chicago snow removal law, landlords or property managers must clear snow that falls between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. by no later than 10 p.m. on that same day. If snow falls between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., it must be cleared by 10 a.m. the next day. Snow must be cleared from sidewalks in Chicago 7 days a week.

What if the ice is stuck to the pavement by my apartment building?

Landlords and property managers must put down sand or other materials to mitigate the slipping hazards and prevent ice accumulation. And once weather permits, they must clean the sidewalk.

What if someone slips and falls on the sidewalk outside my apartment building despite the shoveling and strewing of ice?

Unless landlords have been careless or intentionally created a hazard, Section 10-9-190 of the Municipal Code immunizes them from civil damages arising from acts or omissions in removing the snow or ice from the public sidewalk. The Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act, 745 ILCS 75/1, also provides immunity for negligent removal of snow and ice from the sidewalk. (Note: this immunity does not extend to removing snow from private property, such as a garage entrance, a driveway, or a walkway to the front door.)

LEGAL UPDATE: What if a pedestrian’s fall on the ice is caused not by poor shoveling but by conditions on the property that direct snowmelt towards a sidewalk?  Landlords and property managers should pay attention because the Illinois Supreme Court provided new guidance in July 2017 on this specific issue.

In Murphy-Hylton v. Lieberman Management Services, Inc, 2016 IL 120394, a pedestrian slipped on ice on the public sidewalk beside her condominium building. It had been 11 days since the last snowfall, and the condominium building, through its property manager, had adequately cleared the sidewalks of snow after the storm. But the management company had allowed the downspouts on the property to direct snowmelt towards the sidewalk, where it turned into ice.

The pedestrian alleged that the management company had been negligent in maintaining the premises in such a way that it caused an unnatural accumulation of ice on the sidewalk. The management company argued that the broad immunity provided by the Illinois Snow and Removal Act insulated it from any liability. The Illinois Supreme Court disagreed with this broad theory of immunity, holding that there is no immunity for failing to correct dangerous conditions that could lead to the accumulation of ice on the public sidewalk.

In short: check sidewalks and downspouts near your apartments and rental properties – are they in need of repair or redirection before the snowmelt season arrives?

Domu is not a law firm and is not providing legal advice to you in this blog post or in any other forum.  If you would like clarification of your legal obligations to clear snow under Chicago’s Municipal Code, please review the City of Chicago’s resources on their website.