City Not Kidding: “Clear Your Sidewalk”

Brent Finnegan -- February 12th, 2010

photo by Randy LoweryToday the city announced that starting Monday, February 15, they will issue citations for unshoveled sidewalks in the city.

From the release sent out this afternoon:

“Under city code section 6-1-15, sidewalks are to be clear within three hours of the end of snowfall or by ten in the morning if the snow has fallen overnight. Due to the significant snowfall accumulation and the frequency of storms, the city has allowed more leeway than usual in this matter.”

Snow photo by Randy Lowery.

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79 Responses to “City Not Kidding: “Clear Your Sidewalk””

  1. Reminds me of this story on NPR this morning.

    New Yorkers have a strict deadline for getting their sidewalks cleared. After the storm ends, they have four hours to rid of the snow in front of their buildings. If they haven’t shoveled, police hand out tickets. New York City law allows sanitation workers to give out citations as well.

    Comparatively, Harrisonburg enforcement is pretty lax. But if anyone tries to park in the spot I spent five hours clearing, well, I guess you’ll know where the shovel-sized dents in your hood came from.

  2. Matt Leech says:

    As a tenant in a multi-person building, are the tenants or the landlord generally responsible for clearing walkways? Would that be the landlord? How is this handled in large apartment complexes? I’m also wondering where I’m supposed to put the snow at this point…

  3. Nicklaus Combs says:

    That information will be found in your lease agreement.

  4. The code says “occupant.”

    It shall be unlawful for the occupant of any building, and where there is no occupant, for the owner of such vacant building, or of any unimproved lot of land lying on any street, alley or public place within the city where there is a paved footway or sidewalk to permit snow to remain along the front or side of such premises longer than three (3) hours after the snow has ceased to fall, except that if the snow shall cease to fall in the night, it shall be cleared away by 10:00 a.m. the following morning.

    You could try to get everyone in your building to pitch in and help shovel, or you could draw straws for who will do the entire thing or pay the fine.

  5. Matt Leech says:

    Hmmm. My lease specifies the snow on Porches and stairs, but not the sidewalks, nor the sidewalk in front of my house that belongs to the city. It seems strange that there’s not a separate clause for large apartment buildings. Putting that responsibility on the tenants/Leaving it up to the tenants to decide seems a little strange.

  6. Kevin Edwards says:

    Maybe idealism is setting in harder during my old age, but assuming responsibility, even where none lies, to better the movement of your locale seems like a good idea. Your neighhbor needs a hand digging themselves out, help. The sidewalk in front of your apartment is covered and no one has attempted to clear it, then why not do it for your own sake (and others). Maybe responsibility lies in the places which suit your situation best.

  7. Matt Leech says:

    I’ll agree with you to some extent Kevin, I just don’t think assumed responsibility shouldn’t fall on the same person over and over again. If one person takes initiative, the other should do the same on another occasion.

    Also, Renters pay money monthly for the space they live in, and the upkeep of the property, which I feel shifts the responsibility somewhat. Unfortunately, in a town such as Harrisonburg, where most homes are rented to college students, the laws don’t cater to the well being of Tenants as much as Landlords.

  8. Kevin Edwards says:

    I agree Matt. The owner of the property should always assume responsibility for their property, be it leased or not. I was just musing on what to do should something not be done, etc, etc.

  9. Brent,

    In Boston apparently there is a convention that if you have shoveled your car out of a spot on the street, you can reserve it for yourself for at least two days by putting a trash can or something like that in the space while you are gone.

    And as for all you irresponsible tenants, the code says “occupant.” Go get those sidewalks shoveled, you lazy spoiled goofballs. Most of us who own our houses pay property taxes, which you do not, and most of us have been out there within 24 hours getting those sidewalks in front of our houses shoveled off so that you all can walk on them. So get off your duffs and get those sidewalks cleared!

  10. Erin says:

    I think Matt posed another very legitimate question…where are we supposed to put the snow at this point? I rent a house with a small front yard that has about as much snow as it can hold. I’ve cleared a path the width of my shovel on my sidewalk so far, but most of my neighbors haven’t even made a dent yet. Here’s hoping for several VERY sunny days to reduce this mess!

  11. Riner is not going to come to your house and shovel snow. If your landlord hasn’t been by yet, he’s not coming. Get a shovel and get to work, kids. Especially along Mason Street. Nurses need to get to the hospital.

    Procrastinators have done themselves a disservice at this point. Had you shoveled when it was still snow, you wouldn’t be breaking your back with chunks of ice. I was out shoveling on Saturday and Sunday, and there is a handmade mountain in my front yard. I have no sympathy.

  12. Nicklaus Combs says:

    not to mention shoveling a sidewalk in front of a house takes no more than 10 minutes. just get out there and do it.

  13. How many people who live in apartments even own snow shovels? Where would they keep them? Unless yard and sidewalk maintenance are stipulated in your lease, it seems this should be the responsibility of the owners.

  14. Matt says:

    Unfortunately, I live on Grattan street, where the snow has been pushed directly onto the sidewalk by plows and people shoveling their cars out. I’ve shoveled the walkways around my apartment, the stairs, and both porches three times at this point (and not to mention my car out a few times, as people take my spot when I leave) and people just dump snow right back on the property.

    Nik, at this point, I don’t think shovelling will take anyone any less than a couple of hours, or at least that’s how it looks from my street.

  15. Nicklaus Combs says:

    jeremy – not having storage space because you are in an apartment is a silly excuse (this coming from an apartment dweller). also unless it says otherwise in the lease (which you signed!) it is obviously the responsibility of the property owner.

  16. …Bubby’s Snowblower Service! We applaud the City’s strong, principled decision to avoid penalizing hard working citizens by providing socialized snow removal to malingering occupants.

    We believe that America is stronger and healthier when citizens pull themselves up by their snowboot straps and get out there and git ‘er done!

    We also remind citizens that America was made great by free commerce and initiative – which we have in abundance! Valentine Day specials!

  17. City code says occupant, not landlord. This may be the result of landlords steering city council members/attorney to adopt language like that, but a lease can say any number of ridiculous things. I once turned down a lease on Broad Street when I read that the landlord reserved the right to come unannounced and search the house. Another time, I knowingly signed a lease that expired the day before it began — I didn’t want to stay there a year.

    If you signed it, you agreed to it. Read the lease, folks.

    I doubt that the HPD officer writing the citation will care that you don’t have a shovel.

  18. Brooke says:

    I got most of the kids on my block to shovel their snow yesterday, by putting a copy of the snow removal statute on their door. I didn’t really think it would work – figured most of them would be thrown away and ignored, but lo and behold, today, they’ve all shoveled their sidewalks! Guess sometimes you just need a gentle reminder. Glad they did it, too. Sounds like they’d get a ticket Monday. I guess I did them a favor. LOL

    To be sure I don’t mind helping out a neighbor that needs to borrow a shovel, or a helping hand to help shovel (in fact, I’ll probably be doing just that tomorrow afternoon, for a neighbor who hasn’t had the time to shovel yet), but there’s no way I can, or even should, shovel out 7+ houses of able-bodied college students, even if I wanted to.

    Thankfully, I think most just don’t realize what their duty is, and are willing to man (woman) up when it’s made known. And it says “resident” so I think that means the person occupying the dwelling, not the landlord. If you decide to live in the City, and have a sidewalk in front of your rental, you need to be prepared to shovel snow. It’s just part of living here.

  19. Nicklaus,

    Comment #4 above by Brent quotes the code directly. It says “occupant” not “landlord” or “resident.” You are wrong.

  20. I think Nicklaus might have meant to write “not the responsibility.”

  21. City code says a lot of things, including forbidding fornication, cohabitation, and cursing in public (all of those are in are Title 16, Chapter 7). In fact, the same section of code about clearing snow from sidewalks (Title 6, Chapter 1, Section 6) also outlaws lemonade stands, posting flyers, and transporting coal over sidewalks. The law is equally clear on those matters; the question is always what will actually be enforced. If a tenant has a lease agreement indicating that the owner is responsible for exterior care of the building premises, they have a reasonable excuse to avoid a fine. If you are renting a townhouse it’s a simple matter to clear your own sidewalks, but if you’re in a larger building with multiple apartments then enforcing this regulation against ”occupants” becomes much trickier.

  22. Jeremy,

    You may have an argument for really large buildings where the lease says the landlord is responsible. But I agree with Brent about Mason Street, which I regularly walk between home and campus. Those are houses, and I bet a lot of those students do not have such leases and are responsible. They should get off their spoiled brat behinds and get out there and clean it up.

  23. Dan says:

    I think they should change the code to owner and then let the owner decide whether or not to require the tenants to shovel by putting it in the lease. It simply isn’t practical in every situation to expect renters to shovel snow. For instance, who’s going to clear the snow from student rental properties when all the students are home over Christmas break? Or are they irresponsible unless they drive back to the ‘burg and shovel their sidewalks? I shovel the place we rent, but it makes sense in our situation.

    And Barkley, I hope you’re kidding about renters not paying property taxes. Sure, the owner pays the taxes but where do you think he/she gets the money? I’d like to think that those of us who rent earn the privilege to walk on home-owner-shoveled sidewalks by subsidizing their mortgages with our taxes.

  24. Nicklaus Combs says:

    mistype my bad.

    there is so much grey area with apartments (especially the thought above about jmu breaks) that i can’t imagine they will not reword the law for clarity or just send the citations to the property owner / landlord despite what it officially says.

  25. Kevin Edwards says:

    “They should get off their spoiled brat behinds and get out there and clean it up.”

    Hm, I go to school, work as much as I can, and also managed to shovel my own driveway/walk,and helped shovel out people’s cars who I didn’t even know. You what they say about assumptions.

  26. Kevin Edwards says:

    And can write a lot of typos. But you get the point.

  27. Brooke says:

    Kevin, I think his point is the kids that AREN’T shoveling their own walks (let alone helping anyone else) and assuming someone else will take care of it for them, are the spoiled brats, not students in general.

  28. seth says:

    my favorite quote about assumptions came from steven segall in under seige 2(did you guys know he’s actually a ninja!?). i’m curious about houses on corners. what about those folks with twice as much snow to shovel? how is that fair? actually, what i’m more curious about is the large and seemingly impermeable mound of ice that has been on the sidewalk on the wolfe street side of the hpd parking lot since the first time it snowed.

  29. Brooke says:

    It’s fair because the person made the choice to either buy that house or live there. It comes with the territory.

    To me it’s the same way that it’s “fair” that people who live in houses with sidewalks have to shovel snow, by law, while people who live in houses with no sidewalks, don’t.

    Don’t want to shovel snow? Find a place to live that does it for you, or has no sidewalks. Choose to live somewhere where you have one, or even two sidewalks bordering your residence, and you shovel. We’ve previously lived places where we didn’t have sidewalks, and all we shoveled was our driveway, but we’ve now chosen to live downtown and live in a house that has a sidewalk in front of it. So we shovel. And if you can’t shovel, ask or pay an able bodied friend or neighbor to help you. It’s really as simple as that.

  30. Brooke says:

    Your last question about the parking deck sidewalk is a good one. Anyone know who is responsible for that? The city? If so, they need to take care of it.

    Also, while I am very thankful for the job the snow plows do getting and keeping the roads clear, the city needs to figure out a way to plow without blocking every crosswalk. They cleaned it up last blizzard (after I called and fussed about it), so I’m wondering why they didn’t go ahead and fix it after the snow was over this time? Side walk clearing is one thing, but the ginormous mountain of snow blocking the crosswalks should be the city’s issue to fix.

  31. Dan,

    Sorry, I do not buy the “tax exploited renters” argument. I agree that rents end up helping landlords pay their mortgages and property taxes. But for owner-occupied houses, the price of the houses is higher due to the mortgage interest tax break, which then redounds in those owners having to pay higher property taxes. Those breaks were capitalized into the value of the houses decades ago. So, no, you are not providing any net subsidy. Sorry.

    As for those who think their landlord is supposed to do it, call him or her up whe it snows. Don’t just sit there and think it is fine that people are walking in the street. If your landlord won’t and you don’t have a shovel, go to the nearest house that did shovel their sidewalk and borrow their shovel. I am sure they will be willing to lend it.

    Really, all you non-shoveling renters have completely run out of excuses (and my hats off to hardworking students and other renters who do the right thing).

  32. Brooke,

    Your last question may be a fair one, but I do not think there is any easy fix on it. I have lived in northern cities, and I know of no city that does not do what Harrisonburg does, just keep plowing in all the driveways over and over again. It comes with the territory of having a driveway.

  33. Brooke says:

    I didn’t say jack about my driveway. Re-read my post. I don’t think it even uses the word driveway. I said crosswalks, which are the jurisdiction of the city, as evidenced by the fact that when I called to complain (after weeks of them being blocked last blizzard) the city came and cleared the entrance to the crosswalks.

  34. seth says:

    ok, i just figured it out. say there was a hypothetical army of city employees who got paid (by your aforementioned property taxes) to stay home when it snowed. if such a group existed, perhaps they could take some initiative and get those sidewalks cleared while the rest of us are at work (sorry JA, couldn’t resist).

    to me, rather than writing tickets, it would make more sense for the city to clear the walks and then bill the property owner.

  35. seth says:

    (and my post didn’t say jill about the parking deck….(i was referring to the mound of ice that’s been on the sidewalk past the blue nile, before the park) can’t we all just get along?)

  36. seth says:

    ok, this time, i’ve really got it figured out. you plant grass on your sidewalk. that way, it’s not a sidewalk. you’d still be subject to the ordinances that say you have to mow, but they never enforce those things anyway, right?

  37. Brooke says:

    I wasn’t talking to you seth, in that post, I was responding to Barkley who was responding to my post about the crosswalks. :-)

    When I was responding to you I was fully agreeing that it’s a good question and whoever is responsible (regardless of whether it’s the parking lot or the parking deck) needs to take care of it, I’m guessing the city, since it’s on the HPD side.

  38. Brooke says:

    I can see why there might be a difference in enforcing the two statutes. Not mowing one’s yard doesn’t create a safety to pedestrians. Not removing snow does present a very real safety hazard to the public. They can either slip and fall on the sidewalk, or get hurt walking in the road.

  39. Brooke says:

    seth (so there’s no confusion) – from a fiscal standpoint, it makes much more sense for the city to simply ticket those who don’t comply until they do comply. It saves the city money in man hours and equipment usage costs.

    And really, I am not understanding what the big freakin’ deal is. It’s not that big of a deal to just shovel the walk. 1 able-bodied person can do it and, fact is, most of these kids live with more than one person. I’ve seen students out doing it. With 2-3 or even more out there shoveling and it’s done in no time, as long as you don’t wait until it’s packed ice. So instead of expecting the city to come do it for people, and bill them, how about people just do what they’re supposed to do.

  40. Lowell Fulk says:

    Brooke is one of the most reasonable and respectful individuals to ever post a comment, why do you continue to be sarcastic and borderline disrespectful?

    She continues to offer forward sincere and well considered ideas and questions, and solutions.

    You really need to stop with the idea that city government should take care of you by shoveling your snow. If everyone would take care of their own circle of influence, it would save much taxpayer money in the city maintenance budget.

    As far as the city clearing your particular path and then billing you for having done so? You’ve just proposed another level of government bureaucracy to do something for you, which is in your realm of responsibility.

    And maintaining access through crosswalks is a very legitimate issue for everyone.

    Get serious, be sincere, and contribute, I think highly of you and I know you’re capable.

  41. Drew Williams says:

    With the amount of time spent making comments, I suspect that sidewalk could have been shoveled by now!

  42. Joe Ebslap says:

    I’m filibustering my snowy sidewalk. Don’t tread on me!

  43. Brooke,

    I apologize. I misread. You said crosswalks, not driveways.

    However, since all of this has put me in such a grumpy mood, I can’t help commenting on a particularly moronic letter that appeared in the DNR today from someone who claims to have been a journalist and even taught journalism once upon a time. On the one hand the writer complained about the city plowing stuff onto the sidewalk in front of his house, but then complained that the city was not plowing enough because Mayor Degner favors bicycles over cars. You know how it is, those darned bikes do just fine in all those piles of snow when the cars get stuck, gosh darn.

  44. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Seth, the problem with your “hand shovels to the teachers” argument is that we’re contracted for a certain number of DAYS, not a certain season of the year. That’s why if the school year is elongated due to missed school days, or if our spring break becomes class days, we have to cancel any other plans in order to work our contracted number of days as teachers. Which is one thing that makes it tough for teachers to secure summer employment (something you’ve previously encouraged) – you need an employer who is really flexible with your available days!

    It really doesn’t seem like it’s too hard to understand the concept, but so many people rag on teachers for snow days. Frankly, I’d rather be able to take a summer job that starts in June, as well as preserve our family spring break plans, than miss this many days of school in the winter without the ability to make money or travel.

  45. Jamie Smith says:

    Frankly, I find it amusing that so many well educated people can spend this much time on snow removal and sidewalks. We used to say that everybody could talk about sex, religion, politics and parking. I guess we can add snow removal to the list.

  46. Emmy says:

    When you get this much snow and it isn’t normal for your area, then getting rid of it becomes all you think about. Or perhaps your brain starts to ooze out of your ears after spending so many days inside with your children.

  47. Brooke says:

    When you walk most places you go, with small children, not to mention trying to jog 3 times a week, people’s lack of sidewalk clearing definitely stays at the forefront of one’s mind. I cringe every time it snows, because I know it’ll be at least 2-3 weeks before the crap people didn’t shovel, that turned to ice, melts.

  48. Deb SF says:

    Barkley, I don’t think that “the city was not plowing enough because Mayor Degner favors bicycles over cars” was the letter-writers intent, exactly, I thought he was noting that dealing with all the short-run issues associated with snow seem to be more pressing priorities than sending people to California to learn about bike paths. The writer’s mood seemed no more grumpy than others (*ahem*) has been this week, and I’ve heard that same opinion from a couple of others, so he’s not alone. No surprise, look at the opinions above about shoveling ;-)

    I did take issue with the writer’s suggestion about dumping the snow in Blacks Run, though… it seems to me that this already stressed ecosystem would better absorb all the chemicals and salt used to treat the roads with a slow, gentle melt that dumping feets-worth in the stream at one time.

  49. Jamie,

    Do you mean that talking about sex, religion, politics, and parking are also amusing or not amusing? You certainly don’t want to talk about the economy all the time now do you?

    Deb SF,

    Ooooh, looks like I am getting my grumpy hand slapped. Ouch. But I don’t think you have been walking in the middle of busy Mason Street a lot recently like I have.

    As for our glorious letter writer, was not the decision to send people to California made prior to knowing just how much snow we were going to be having? I still think it is one of the sillier letters I have seen recently, although that may be based on my perception that the writer is generally intelligent, which cannot be said for large numbers of DNR letter writers (ooooh, more grumpiness, and not at all amusing). I agree that the idea of putting the snow in Black’s Run is a very poor idea, definitely not amusing.

  50. Eso says:

    My friend on the North end of town wants to know how their neighbors are going to be ticketed for failure to clear the sidewalk when the city can’t get up an inch of solid ice on the roads in their subdivision and is not penalized for it. I told him that was the way the government worked, but that’s not a very satisfying answer.

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