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Chicago Sidewalk Clearing Laws

"Let every man shovel out his own snow, and the whole city will be passable." This is a quote from author Louise Penny that is most appropriate for a Chicago sidewalk clearing law article.

Chicago winters can be especially challenging when sidewalks are not cleared of snow and ice. But let's face it. Shoveling snow in Chicago isn't fun. In fact, it can be downright miserable. But, someone's gotta do it. That someone is you. So, get out your snow boots, shovel, and ice pick. Here's some more information about your responsibility for keeping the sidewalks clear in the Windy City.

Who says I have to keep my sidewalk clear?

The city, that's who. According to the Municipal Code of Chicago (4-4-310 & 10-8-180), property owners and occupants are responsible for keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice.

The ordinance reads, "every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any building or lot of ground in the city abutting upon any public way or public place shall remove the snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of such building or lot of ground." Therefore, Chicagoans generally have to shovel and remove ice or snow from the section of sidewalk in front of their home or business.

Whose responsibility is it to shovel the snow?

It depends who has "charge of the building." If you are a homeowner, that's easy. You do! It's your home, after all. However, if you are a tenant, read your lease. If it says you are responsible for the building, then you may be on the hook for any fines or lawsuits that can arise from not following the ordinance. If the lease doesn't say, the owner generally has the responsibility to keep the sidewalk clear.

When do I have to clear the sidewalk?

The city of Chicago made this one easy. If the snow stops falling before 4 p.m. you have three hours to clear it. If the snow stops falling after 4 p.m., you have to clear before 10 a.m. on the next day. If it's Sunday, kick your feet and relax in front of the fire. The city doesn't require you to remove snow on the Sabbath.

How much snow do I need to clear to comply with the ordinance?

The ordinance requires you to clear a 5-foot wide path along the sidewalk, where conditions allow.

Why? This width allows pedestrians in wheelchairs, people with children in strollers, students walking to school, and individuals with assistive devices the ability to walk down the sidewalk. Also, don't shovel ice or snow onto streets, crosswalks, or alleys, and certainly don't bury any fire hydrants.

If the ice is too hard to shovel, then the person "having charge" of the property must ensure that the sidewalk is "strewn with ashes, sand, sawdust, or some similar suitable material."

What if I can't clear the sidewalk myself?

Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers. In Chicago, you can request a Snow Corps volunteer. It's a program that connects volunteers with residents in need of snow removal -- such as seniors and residents with disabilities.

To request a volunteer to shovel your block in case of extreme snowfall, call 311. This is a volunteer-matching service. The City will do its best to match those who have requested assistance with a volunteer.

My neighbor never shovels his sidewalk and I'm not going to take it anymore.

Good! You don't have to. Call "311" to report an area that hasn't been properly or timely shoveled. Or, make a report online.

What's the penalty if I don't keep my sidewalk clear?

If you own or live in a residence and don't feel like complying with the sidewalk snow removal ordinance, you'll be paying a fine of at least $50.

Business owners who don't comply with the sidewalk snow removal ordinance can face fines from $250 to $500 per day of violation.

What if someone slips and falls after I've already shoveled the snow?

An excellent question that city of Chicago has already answered for you. If you are a residential property owner, you'll like this law. If you're a business owner, not so much -- it won't protect you.

The Snow and Ice Removal Act says that if someone has a slip and fall accident on the sidewalk in front of your residence, you can't be held liable, even if they end up at the ER room at Evanston Hospital. Unless, of course, you were "willful and wanton" in removing the snow or ice and it led to an unnatural accumulation. Again, this only applies to residences, not commercial or business owners.

Always remember, it's your job to clear snow on the sidewalk in front of your Chicago home or business. Follow the rules, and you should be protected from most lawsuits.

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