After this weekend's Nor'easter, most of us are left chipping away the ice on our walkways. But who is responsible for clearing that snow anyways? Up until recently, a homeowner was not responsible for a slip and fall resulting from the natural accumulation of snow and ice. The "Massachusetts Rule," as it was called, changed with the 2010 decision that charged the property owner with a duty to "act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others" with regard to the accumulation of snow and ice. This decision did not apply an additional burden on a homeowner, as they already had a duty to make the premises safe if they reasonably knew there was a dangerous condition on the property. It did, however, eliminate a defense that property owners relied on for years.
Some cities will define what is a reasonable time frame for clearing snow, but if you are expecting anyone on your property, including the mailman, you had better make a reasonable effort to make it safe for someone to pass onto the property.
An ancillary issue that sometimes crops up regarding shoveling snow is, whether a landlord can force their tenant to take care of snow removal. The answer there is an unequivocal no, pursuant to 105 CMR 410.452, which states that a landlord "shall maintain all means of egress at all times in a safe, operable condition and shall keep all exterior stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies and bridges free of snow and ice." One exception to this rule is if the entrance is independent to the tenant's unit. So, if there is a handshake agreement, or even if the lease states that the tenant will shovel the walkway, the responsibility is ultimately left to the property owner.
Stay warm out there!