Shoveling Out - Snow Removal Responsibilities and Liability for Community Associations
The DC Metro area recently endured winter storm Jonas. Many embraced the historic snow, especially kids who got a weeklong vacation. Homeowners, though, ended up spending some quality time with a shovel and were likely rewarded with a sore back. Likewise, Community Associations had to figure out how to remove the large amounts of snow from streets and sidewalks. However, were the hours of labor and snow removal bills necessary? More importantly, if the snow was not removed and someone was injured, who would be liable? In this article, we will examine the snow removal laws in the District of Columbia (DC), Virginia and Maryland.
Private Streets and Sidewalks
Community Associations are usually required to remove snow from any private streets and sidewalks part of the Common Area or Common Elements. However, Community Associations should always first refer to their governing documents to determine their maintenance responsibilities. If a Community Association is responsible for maintaining streets and sidewalks, then it must take reasonable steps to keep them clear and safe during a storm. Failure to do so could result in liability if someone is injured due to slippery conditions. DC, Virginia and Maryland all provide different standards in regards to the steps a Community Association should take to reasonably remove snow and ice.
Of the three jurisdictions, Virginia is arguably the most lenient. It allows Community Associations to “wait until the end of a storm and a reasonable time thereafter before removing ice and snow from an outdoor entrance, walk, platform or steps.”1 Accordingly, Virginia Community Associations will not be held liable for injuries due to snow and ice, as long as they take reasonable steps to clear the private sidewalks and walkways after a storm has ended. It is important to note that this does not mean a Community Association needs to clear all the private walkways. Instead, Community Associations are only required to clear enough walkways to give owners and their tenants and guests access to the property and their homes.
Maryland’s snow removal laws are quite similar to those of Virginia’s, but there is no hard and fast rule as to when a Community Association must begin snow removal efforts. Courts simply look at each matter on a case-by-case basis to determine whether a Community Association took reasonable steps to remove snow and ice from the private walkways.2
DC probably places the highest standards on Community Associations in regards to what is considered reasonable snow removal. Under DC case law, a Community Association is required to exercise reasonable care to remove snow and ice from private sidewalks and walkways that has accumulated, or is accumulating, to avoid injury if it knows or should know there is a dangerous condition present.3 This means that, unlike in Virginia, Community Associations in DC cannot wait until after a snowstorm has ended to clear snow and ice from private walkways. Instead, if at any time a Community Association knows or should now there is a dangerous condition on the walkways, then it must take steps to make them safe or risk liability for injuries. Finally, if a Community Association in DC hires a contractor to remove the snow and ice, but that contractor does an inadequate job and does not clear the snow or ice completely, the Community Association will likely still be liable for injuries.
Public Streets and Sidewalks
In general, Community Associations are not responsible to clear snow from public streets. That duty rests with the City or County in which the Community Association is located. However, there may be snow removal duties placed on a Community Association regarding public walkways and sidewalks depending on the city or county in which it is located. At the end of this article we have provided a list of the snow removal requirements enforced by DC and various cities and counties in Virginia and Maryland. However, does failure to abide by a local ordinance mean liability for an injury on a public sidewalk?
In all three jurisdictions, Courts have generally held that the duty to remove snow from public sidewalks is a non-delegable duty of the local or state government. This means that even if there is an ordinance in place requiring a Community Association to remove snow and ice from public sidewalks, they will generally not be liable for injuries due to their failure to do so. Of course, this does not mean a Community Association will not be liable if it does something to create an additional hazard, like dump all of the snow from the Common Area onto the public sidewalks.
How to Stay Out of Trouble
So, what should a Community Association do to avoid liability for a slip and fall case? In general, a Community Association should always fulfill the maintenance responsibilities that are delegated in its governing documents, which usually includes removal of snow and ice from its private streets and walkways. It should also heed the local ordinances regarding snow removal of public sidewalks. Another important step is to keep records of the conditions of the streets and sidewalks, as well as the snow removal efforts. If a slip and fall lawsuit is ever filed, those records can save a Community Association from liability by evidencing it took the requisite reasonable steps to clear snow and ice.
In the end, while snowstorms can be a great excuse to take a day off from work or school, they can be a massive headache for Community Associations. We hope this article will help lessen that headache. However, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.
State and Local Ordinances
- District of Columbia; Community Associations are required to clear snow from the public sidewalks around the property within 8 hours of daylight after the snow stops falling. If the snow is not removed, then the City is actually required to do so, but can charge the Association for costs incurred.
- Virginia; Virginia does not have a statewide law regarding snow removal from public walkways or sidewalks. Instead, it is up to the discretion of the individual cities and counties to pass such ordinances. Below is a list of the applicable ordinances in Northern Virginia:
- Alexandria; Community Associations are responsible for clearing public walkways adjoining the property within 24-72 hours after snow stops falling, depending on the severity of the storm.
- Arlington County; Community Associations are required to clear snow from walkways adjacent to the property. Snow must be cleared within 24-36 hours of snowfall depending on the accumulation. Failure to comply may result in a civil penalty of up to $100.
- Fairfax County; Community Associations are not legally obligated to clear the public sidewalks and walkways but are urged to help.
- Falls Church; Community Associations are required to remove snow and ice from public sidewalks surrounding the property 6 hours after snowfall or risk a fine. If the snow falls at night, Community Associations have 6 hours after sunrise to remove it. Snow / ice must not be placed on city streets.
- Loudoun County; Community Associations are responsible for clearing snow and ice from public walkways adjoining the property. Walkways must be cleared within six hours after snow stops falling. If it snows overnight, snow must be cleared by noon of the next day. Failure to follow these rules can result in a fine of up to $250.
- Prince William County; Community Associations are asked to help clear public sidewalks and walkways, but are under no legal obligation to do so.
- Maryland; Similar to Virginia, Maryland has left snow removal laws to the discretion of its Cities and Counties. Below is a list of the applicable ordinances in the cities and counties in the DC Metro area:
- Frederick County; Community Associations are required to shovel public sidewalks around the property within 12 hours after the end of snowfall.
- Laurel; Community Associations are required to clear ice and snow from sidewalks fronting the property within 12 hours after the cessation of snowfall or ice accumulation at risk of a fine.
- Montgomery County; Community Associations must clear sidewalks around the property within 24 hours after a snowstorm ends. There are however additional restrictions for the following cities in Montgomery County:
- Gaithersburg; Community Associations have 12 hours to shovel after snow stops falling.
- Rockville; Community Associations have between 24 and 72 hours to shovel the public sidewalks depending on the snow fall.
- Takoma Park; Community Associations must keep public sidewalks clear between 9:00AM and 5:00PM.
- Prince George's County; Community Associations must have public sidewalks around the property cleared by 48 hours after snowfall. After a warning period, county inspectors can issue a $100 fine for sidewalks that have not been shoveled.
1. Amos v. NationsBank, N.A., 256 Va. 344, 346, 504 S.E.2d 365, 366 (1998)
2. Thomas v. Panco Mgmt. of Maryland, LLC, 423 Md. 387, 413, 31 A.3d 583, 599 (2011)
3. Youssef v. 3636 Corp., 777 A.2d 787, 793-94 (D.C. 2001)