Snow Removal: Dealing With A Messy Situation

City life comes with some uniquely vexing issues. As Metro Boston residents collectively groan – or, in limited instances, rejoice – at the area’s first snowfall, many renters and landlords alike may wonder: Whose responsibility is it to take care of this snowy mess?

Under Massachusetts law, if you’re renting an apartment or home, feel free to put your feet up: It is the landlord’s, not the tenant’s, legal obligation to clear away snow and ice from the property.

An important change to snow removal law occurred in 2010, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the case Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. Prior to this case, property owners in Massachusetts had no duty to warn of or remove so-called “natural” accumulations of snow or ice. Papadopoulos abolished this “natural accumulation” defense, finally bringing Massachusetts in line with every other state in New England and reinstating the general standard of reasonable care found in other areas of premises liability law. In other words, now landlords must keep their property “reasonably safe” vis-à-vis injuries from snow and ice, just as they have to do in general. As the Court pointed out, what is “reasonable” depends on the circumstances – the type of property at issue, the amount of foot traffic, the expense of snow removal, and the foreseeability of injury, among other factors.

Moving onto leases – Can landlords shift snow removal responsibility and resulting injury liability to their tenants through carefully crafted lease language? Can landlords make their snowy mess their tenant’s snowy mess?

The answer is, for the most part, no. A landlord may not use a lease to shift responsibility for snow removal to his or her tenants – with one exception: where the tenants enter through a private door they do not share with others (for example, where they rent a single family house).

Even in this case, however, it is the landlord, not the tenant, who is nevertheless still liable for any injuries that result from failure to properly remove snow and ice – just as he would be had he kept that responsibility for himself. So it may be wise for landlords to keep this in mind and retain control over this responsibility, where feasible.

If you are a landlord who needs advice on snow removal issues or who is worried about liability for snow and ice related injury, contact Levine-Piro Law for a consultation. If you have been slipped on snow or ice on your landlord’s property or a commercial property and been injured, Levine-Piro Law can help with a personal injury claim. Contact us at 978-637-2048 or for a consultation.

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