why am I obligated to maintain a sidewalk?

Recently I had the displeasure to receive a notice from the city that I had not shoveled my sidewalk and they’d do it for me and charge me premium prices if I didn’t do it within 24 hours. This was really stupid because it hadn’t even stopped snowing yet. But it got me thinking…

Why am I obligated to even have a sidewalk at all? I can understand if my property was in the middle of town, or in an area with heavy pedestrian traffic. But I’m way out on the edge of town, at the edge of a 4-lane major highway. Nobody uses this sidewalk except joggers, and I don’t see any reason why I am obligated to maintain part my property for the pleasure of others. I want to rip out the cement and plant grass and trees in its place. I need a sound barrier against the traffic a lot more than I need a sidewalk.

Now I can see why I’m obligated to remove snow and keep the sidewalk in safe condition, if it already exists. If the city didn’t force me, my insurance company would. But I don’t understand how the city can legally require me to have a sidewalk at all.

It varies by jurisdiction, but the law usually says that you own the property to the street, so the sidewalk is on your property. The city merely holds the right of way.

The reason why the city can order you to clear the sidewalks is because it passed an ordinance giving it that power. Why? To ensure the sidewalks are clear for pedestrians, as part of the principle (sadly neglected these days) of the common good. It benefits many more people to be able to walk on clear sidewalks than it inconveniences those who’s rather not clear them.

As to your location, I doubt the law was drafted to differentiate. All or nothing has the advantage of avoiding lawsuits claiming discrimination (“I had to shovel my walk, he didn’t.”)

Since you don’t really “own” the sidewalk, you could send the city a (reasonable) bill for maintaining city property. :wink:


Drawing on dimly remembered law school…

While you may own the land, the city has an easement - a legal right of way over this part of your land. Your own the land, but must make it available for other people to walk on, in short.

  • Rick