62 fines laid against Hamilton property owners for not shoveling sidewalks

Hamilton residents have complained 387 times so far this winter about neighbours not clearing their snowy sidewalks and many readers weighed in on the debate about whether the city should clear sidewalks.

Here's what you had to say when we asked of the city should take over sidewalk snow clearing

"I've almost broken my leg three times this year," Frankie Scott-Hills, right, of snow clearing in Hamilton. He walked along Barton Street East Sunday with his daughter Mackenzie. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton residents have complained 387 times so far this winter about neighbours not clearing their snowy sidewalks.

Most complaints have happened during the blustery snow storms of the last two weeks. Of those calls, 62 resulted in the property owners being fined $325.

The numbers come amid renewed political and grassroots debate about whether the city — not property owners — should be responsible for clearing sidewalks.

Right now, property owners or occupants have to clear snow and ice from the sidewalks adjacent to their properties within 24 hours of it falling. Ancaster is the exception to this, since it has public sidewalk clearing from before amalgamation. A 2014 city report says that cost about $3.6 million a year.

If the city receives a complaint, it sends out an inspector to look at the sidewalk in question, says Kelly Barnett, manager of service delivery for licensing and bylaw services. The inspector gives the property owner a 24-hour window to correct the situation. If that doesn't happen, the city sends out a contractor and fines the delinquent shoveller for the cost. 

Jade Peebles and Owen Robertson talk at the corner of Upper Paradise Road and Stone Church Road during the bitter cold Monday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
(Samantha Craggs/CBC)

At least one city councillor — Maureen Wilson of Ward 1 (west end) — wants the city to take over sidewalk snow clearing. What that would mean for the local tax bill is unknown, although Wilson says she'd like more information from city staff.

The city last looked at this option in 2014. There are municipalities with city snow clearing, a staff report said then. It takes them between 24 hours and five days to get sidewalks completely clear.

Whatever happens, Frankie Scott-Hills says the situation needs to improve. He walked over snow and ice on the sidewalks of Barton Street East Monday as he went to the store with his seven-year-old daughter.

"I've almost broken my leg three times this year," he said. 

The complaint calls about sidewalks have kept bylaw staff busy, says Barnett. Some of the inspectors are student interns from Mohawk College's police foundations program.

"It's been a challenge for us with back-to-back snow storms," she said. "We put all hands on deck if it's a huge issue out there."

But "there's nothing more heartbreaking than to see someone in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller down the street, and they become stranded."

A lone walker braves the cold on Upper Paradise Road Monday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Common violations, aside from just not shoveling, involve people shoveling snow around fire hydrants, or pushing it into the road.

"I know sometimes we get large amounts of snow," she said, "and it's difficult to pile it. But throwing snow on the road can cause such a safety issue."

It's hard to compare one year against another when it comes to snow clearing violations, Barnett said. Some years it snows a lot. Some years it doesn't.

In 2018, though, there were 1,874 complaints received, 386 orders issued, and 25 instances where contractors were called to clear snow.

In 2017, there were 972 complaints, 358 orders issued and 11 contractor requests. In 2016, there were 1,692 complaint calls, 241 orders issued and 11 contractor requests.

Waste collection staff worked in cold temperatures in the Gilkson neighbourhood Monday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Environment Canada says another 10 centimetres of snow will fall on Hamilton tonight.

We asked you what you thought of sidewalk clearing being a city responsibility, even if it meant higher taxes. Here's what you had to say:

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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