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Who is Responsible For Snow Removal at a Rental Property?

Winter is just around the corner, and for those who own residential properties, it’s crucial to be aware of your legal duties concerning snow clearance. Depending on the state you reside in, there are specific laws governing snow removal. Additionally, your local city or town might have its own ordinances or by-laws that further specify the responsibilities for clearing snow and ice. We dive into the Massachusetts snow removal laws and what they mean for both landlords and tenants.  

Massachusetts Snow Removal Laws

A significant shift in Massachusetts snow removal law occurred in 2010 due to a Supreme Judicial Court Ruling. This ruling reversed a longstanding Massachusetts Rule, over a century old, which previously permitted property owners to leave “natural accumulations” of snow unshoveled without facing liability. Following this change, all property owners, including those of owner-occupied and rental properties, are now legally required to use reasonable care to ensure their premises are clear of snow and ice. Here is a reminder of the crucial snow removal laws if you’re a property owner in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Connecticut!

Are Landlords Responsible For Snow Removal in MA?

In Massachusetts, landlords have the primary responsibility for snow removal at their rental property. 

According to Massachusetts General laws, Chapter 85, Section 5: Removal of snow and ice from sidewalks by abutting landowners; penalties cities by ordinance and towns by by-laws may provide for the removal of snow and ice from sidewalks within such portions of the city or town as they consider expedient by the owner or occupant of land abutting upon such sidewalks. Such ordinances and by-laws shall determine the time and manner of removal and shall affix penalties, not exceeding fifty dollars in the case of a city or ten dollars in the case of a town, for each violation thereof. 

Landlords primarily bear the responsibility for clearing snow at rental properties, a duty that cannot be shifted through lease agreements. Legally, property owners must ensure that all exits are unobstructed. The sole exception occurs when a residence has a unique exit not used by other units. Here, landlords can stipulate in the lease that tenants handle snow and ice removal at their entrance. However, this exception doesn’t extend to driveways or parking spaces, and may not always transfer liability. Therefore, it’s generally inadvisable for landlords to depend on tenants for this task. Moreover, local cities and towns will have their bylaws for how long one has to remove the snow from sidewalks and points of egress. 

As a landlord, particularly if you lease out your property, it’s advisable to keep additional shovels at the property. Although snow removal is primarily your responsibility, depending on the lease agreement, it’s beneficial for your tenants to have access to tools for snow clearance in case they need to do it urgently. 

What is a Tenant's Snow Removal Responsibility in MA?

As a tenant in a rented property, your responsibilities for snow and ice removal are generally less, but that doesn’t mean you have none. 

It’s common for some landlords to include snow and ice removal tasks in the lease agreement, effectively transferring this duty to tenants. Therefore, it’s crucial to thoroughly review your lease to determine if such responsibilities have been assigned to you, especially regarding clearing areas like walkways, entrances, and sidewalks. Notably, if your rental property has a single entry or exit point used solely by you and not shared with other building occupants, the landlord can legally mandate you to remove snow and ice, adhering to local city and state regulations. However, in cases where you reside in a townhouse or a divided home with a communal entrance, landlords typically cannot transfer the snow removal obligation to tenants. 

Liability Issues: Can a Tenant Sue a Landlord for Injury

In Massachusetts, if someone is injured from slipping and falling on snow and ice, standard homeowner’s insurance policies typically include coverage for such incidents on your property. Landlords and homeowners should review their insurance policies to ensure they have sufficient coverage for protection in these situations. 

If someone is injured in an accident, it’s crucial to conduct a detailed investigation of the incident to identify the cause and gather vital information. As an accident victim, it’s important to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to safeguard your interests. 

Tips for shoveling

Snow shoveling can be a demanding physical task, especially in heavy snowfall regions. To make this chore safer and more efficient, consider these tips: 

  • Maintain adequate hydration 
  • Lift with your legs 
  • Choose the right shovel: Opt for a shovel with a curved handle or an adjustable handle to minimize bending, reducing strain on your back 
  • Avoid twisting your upper body 
  • Hold the shovel near the blade for optimal leverage 
  • Regularly take breaks, as shoveling can be physically demanding and often leads to injuries 

In conclusion, as winter approaches, it is imperative for residential property owners to understand and adhere to the legal requirements regarding snow removal. The laws vary by state, and additional local ordinances in cities and towns can impose further obligations. Staying compliant not only ensures safety but also helps avoid potential legal issues that can arise from neglecting these critical winter responsibilities.