Snow and ice: Whose job is it to clear the sidewalks?
City rules say 'owners or occupiers' are responsible, so what does that mean for you?
It's true Vancouver's dusting of snow and zero-ish temperatures barely qualify as winter by most Canadian standards.
But it has been cold enough for sidewalks to get icy, raising the annual, slippery question: Whose job is it to keep them salted and snow-free?
City bylaws are clear that it must be done. The deadline to clear snow and ice from sidewalks is 10 a.m. in Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Richmond and Port Coquitlam, and "as soon as possible" in Surrey and the City of North Vancouver.
The municipal rules are less specific, though, on who wields the shovel or bag of salt — saying only that the "owner or occupier" has to do it.
Is it a landlord or tenant's job?
The City of Vancouver says the job of snow or ice clearing falls on both landlord and renter.
"Whether you are a property owner or tenant, you are responsible for clearing snow and ice from the full width of sidewalks around your residence and business," states the city's website.
But according to provincial guidelines, it actually depends on what you rent:
- In multi-unit buildings, "the landlord is responsible for cutting grass, shovelling snow" and other property maintenance, according to a document from the Residential Tenancy Branch.
- If you rent a whole house, the tenant is "generally" responsible, but it depends on the terms of rental.
"In general it's the landlord's responsibility, especially in multi-unit buildings," said Tom Durning of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre in Vancouver.
Durning said he gets a few calls every year from tenants whose landlords don't know the rules, or aren't following them. He recommends the tenants remind the landlord in writing.
"Anybody who owns a rental property of more than one unit should be looking at keeping the sidewalks clear, and ignorance of the law is no excuse," said Durning. The B.C. Landlords Association did not respond to an interview request.
In condos, it's the strata
For people living in condominiums, the strata corporation is responsible for clearing the sidewalks, along with maintaining all the common property, according to Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C.
"That's one of the reasons why people live in a condo in the first place, so they don't have to do stuff like that anymore," said Gioventu. "That's why we pay [strata maintenance] fees, is to be able to hire people to do those kinds of jobs for us."
Gioventu said many condo buildings have standing contracts with the same company that does landscaping in the summer, to clear snow and ice from sidewalks when needed in the winter.
Smaller buildings — with smaller budgets — may get a couple of volunteers in the building to take on the task, or pay designated owners an hourly rate to clear snow.
"Have a game plan in advance," said Gioventu, rather than scrambling for solutions the morning of a big snowfall.
For business, it depends
If a customer is frustrated by icy steps or sidewalks in front of a business, it's not always obvious who is officially responsible.
The "owner or occupier" is clear for businesses that own their building — like the Hudson's Bay in Downtown Vancouver, for example — but for those that lease space, it can depend on the lease, said Charles Gauthier of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.
Big chains would have the clout to negotiate clauses in their leases saying sidewalk clearing is the landlord's job, he said, whereas some smaller businesses would not.
Either way, says Gauthier, it's good business to have a safe entrance, free of snow and ice — which is what he tells DVBIA members.
"At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter whose job it is to do it," he said. "They should make every effort to make their business accessible."
How are the rules enforced?
In Vancouver, snow and ice clearing is enforced after complaints or if city crews witness safety issues, the city said in a statement. The first time it happens, enforcement officers will give a notice, reminding the owner/occupant of their obligation.
Fines are possible but only for repeat offenders. The fine for single-family and duplex homes is $250 per offence and can rise to a maximum of $2,000 for businesses and apartment buildings.