Weather Updates

Snow shoveling is neighborly thing to do, and it’s also the law, city says

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Memo to property owners who have still not shoveled their sidewalks: Not only does a Chicago ordinance require it, the law also protects those who might not do a perfect job from being sued.

From the Municipal Code Section 10-8-190: “Any person who removes snow or ice from the public sidewalk or street, shall not, as a result of his acts or omissions in such removal, be liable for civil damages. This section does not apply to acts or omissions amounting to wilful or wanton misconduct in such snow or ice removal.”

“The average citizen is much better off shoveling their sidewalk,” said Tim Tomasik, a partner in the personal injury firm Clifford Law Offices. “It will be safer for them and their families and neighbors and the likelihood of somebody successfully bringing suit against them is low.”

Illinois law also protects property owners to some degree, stating it is “undesirable” for someone to be found liable for removing snow unless it amounts to willful or wanton wrongdoing.

But courts can come into play when certain unnatural accumulations of ice and snow are involved.

“If a pipe breaks and water runs onto a sidewalk and freezes that would be an unnatural accumulation and would give rise to liability,” Tomasik said.

Chicago’s ordinance requires that snow that falls before 4 p.m. be shoveled within three hours, except on Sundays. Otherwise it should be gone by 10 a.m. the next day. And if ice is so frozen that it can’t be removed without damaging the sidewalk, it should be “strewn with ashes, sand, sawdust” or similar material. As is obvious to even a casual pedestrian, the rules are not strictly enforced.

However the city’s Transportation Department has sent out Public Way Inspectors in response to more than 470 snowy sidewalk complaints to 311.

“We’re remind them of their responsibility under the municipal code,” said department spokesman Brian Steele. In the case of businesses, “Almost without exception, after a visit from a CDOT public way inspector the sidewalks are shoveled.”

Private residences are more challenging because the owner or responsible person is not always home. In those cases, a yellow and black door hanger is left behind stating: SHOVELING YOUR SIDEWALK, IT’S THE NEIGHBORLY THING TO DO! (IT’S ALSO THE LAW). Smaller print encourages neighbors to help those who are physically unable to shovel. This notice, it is hoped, encourages some snow removal action and is followed up by a mailed notice.

Community groups, ward offices and local business groups also have been issued the door hangers.

The penalty for failure to shovel in Chicago is a $50 fine. Steele did not immediately know how many citations have been issued this year. “If we get repeated calls then we do have the ability to issue citations, however issuing citations is not our priority, it’s getting the sidewalks clear.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.