Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=178856
Story Retrieval Date: 4/23/2014 9:10:35 PM CST

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The scoop on shoveling

by Abe Tekippe
Feb 17, 2011


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Abe Tekippe/MEDILL

Snow and ice from this month's blizzard, the third-worst in Chicago history, still covered a number of sidewalks throughout the city at the beginning of the week.

Chicago Municipal Code, Section 10-8-180

Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any building or lot of ground in the city abutting upon any public way or public place shall remove the snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of such building or lot of ground.

If the sidewalk is of greater width than five feet, it shall not be necessary for such person to remove snow and ice from the same for a space wider than five feet.

In case the snow and ice on the sidewalk shall be frozen so hard that it cannot be removed without injury to the pavement, the person having charge of any building or lot of ground as aforesaid shall, within the time specified, cause the sidewalk abutting on the said premises to be strewn with ashes, sand, sawdust, or some similar suitable material, and shall, as soon thereafter as the weather shall permit, thoroughly clean said sidewalk.

The snow which falls or accumulates during the day (excepting Sundays) before 4 p.m. shall be removed within three hours after the same has fallen or accumulated. The snow which falls or accumulates on Sunday or after 4 p.m. and during the night on other days shall be removed before 10 a.m.
The good news: Chicago is experiencing near-record highs, melting much of the snow and ice leftover from the early February blizzard, which dumped 21.2 inches of snow on the city.

The bad news: Winter — and the snow, the plowing, the shoveling and the backache that come with it — is hardly over.

While the rules for snow removal are spelled out in Section 10-8-180 of the city’s municipal code, some say the law is too vague, raising questions about who has to shovel when, and what penalties they face if they fail to do so.

The section, enforced by the Chicago Department of Transportation, says any person “having charge of a building or lot … abutting upon any public way or public space shall remove the snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of such building or lot of ground.” The rule further states that removal must occur within a specified timeframe, typically three hours. And so long as residents do not engage in “wilful or wanton misconduct” while removing the snow, the law protects them from liability in case of injury.

“The intent behind this is excellent because they are encouraging cleaning your sidewalk, removing snow and ice,” said Jeffrey Kroll, a Chicago-based personal injury lawyer. “I just don’t know if the timeliness of it is appropriate. What happens if you’re not home? What happens if you’re disabled? What happens if you’re elderly? There’s a lot of gray in this ordinance.”

DOT spokesman Brian Steele said that as far as the city is concerned, residents should worry little.

“Residential properties will not receive citations from the city,” Steele said, pointing to the “huge amount of resources” that would be needed to track down and issue $50 citations to the responsible parties. “[Citations] are not going to get a sidewalk clear. What will get a sidewalk clear is having personal contact.”

Since last year, Chicagoans have been able to report unshoveled sidewalks by calling 311, Steele said. Public way inspectors then respond, speaking to property owners if possible, and distributing door hangers and letters to residents.

“Those are very clear reminders,” Steele said. “We’re seeing more success with those than we believe we would issuing citations.”

Commercial properties are treated a little differently, however.

Steele said inspectors sometimes issue citations to commercial property owners if they fail to clear their sidewalks after inspectors’ initial visit. Still, this is rare.

“In almost every case, we get compliance,” he said. “If not right away, then within a couple of hours.”

While citations are few and far between, lawsuits remain a possibility under the ordinance, Kroll said.

“If they remove the snow, I think it’s going to be difficult to sue the homeowner,” Kroll said. “If they do nothing or could not do anything, I think it’s a violation of the ordinance and I think it’s going to create more suits.”

Whether those suits are successful is another issue, particularly with residences. On a state level, the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act says residential owners are encouraged — but not required — to shovel the public sidewalks near their homes.

“It’s sometimes difficult to find civil liability under a Chicago ordinance,” said Heather Begley, an associate at Kroll’s law firm. “You could argue it, but the court may not necessarily apply it.”

Ultimately, Kroll said he believes such lawsuits should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

“There are a lot of holes to this ordinance because it’s just so vague,” he said. “I think it is going to come down to what did [property owners] do and when did they know about [the snow].”