My landlord never removes the snow from our walkways and the driveway. The tenants have to do it themselves. Is this legal? -- Heather, Winchendon
Editor's response regarding snow removal in Massachusetts.
This question raises two separate but connected issues: (1) Legal responsibility for the actual removal of ice and snow, and (2) potential civil liability for injury caused to tenants and others by a landlord's failure to adequately remove ice and snow.
Massachusetts law only requires landlords to keep doorways and means of egress clear of snow and ice, so tenants can come and go safely. Also, in certain situations, that responsibility can be shifted to the tenant by written agreement. See 105 CMR 410.452: The owner shall maintain all means of egress at all times in a safe, operable condition and shall keep all exterior stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies and bridges free of snow and ice, provided, however, in those instances where a dwelling has an independent means of egress, not shared with other occupants, and a written letting agreement so states, the occupant is responsible for maintaining free of snow and ice, the means of egress under his or her exclusive use and control.
So, in other words, with respect to the means of egress, the landlord is always required to shovel snow and ice, except in cases, as described above, where the lease requires a tenant with an exclusive means egress to be responsible for the removal of snow and ice. The landlord cannot avoid this duty in multiple unit buildings where tenants share a means of egress.
Beyond the means of egress, landlords are not required by law to remove snow from driveways or walkways. They are free to assume that responsibility in the lease. But now we must deal with the second, very important issue: liability for injury. Under common law in MA, landlords could avoid liability for slip and fall cases by not removing or altering the "natural accumulation" of snow and ice. But a recent case will likely increase their potential liability for slip and fall snow and ice cases. Given this increased potential for liability, it probably no longer makes any sense for landlords to leave snow and ice in parking lots and on walkways. To avoid potential liability, they will need to keep those areas free of dangerous ice and snow.
Finally, Massachusetts law allows cities and towns to adopt ordinances regarding the removal of snow from around apartment and other buildings. Such laws can place additional obligations on landlords. So you should check with your local town or city government. For more information or to post a question, visit our MA Landlord Law Discussion Forum.