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Spokane’s Unshoveled Sidewalks Create Liability Issues

Safety concerns have arisen as the city of Spokane has failed to enforce its sidewalk law. City officials point to a lack of resources and manpower, but the issue is being addressed by residents.

In recent years, dozens of people have filed complaints with the city asking for help shoveling sidewalks in front of their house; some say they’ve been too afraid to return home because their walkway is too icy and slippery. When the city does not clear a sidewalk, it is at the homeowner’s expense; the city says that is how it must be.

The city of Spokane has an ordinance that requires property owners to shovel sidewalks within 24 hours following a snowstorm. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to $1,000. However, violations often go unreported and are rarely enforced. If a citizen files a complaint about their sidewalk not being shoveled, their case is often closed within a few days, said Anthony Williams, the City of Spokane’s snow removal supervisor.

Though the city does not have an official policy in place for enforcing violations of the ordinance, it can be enforced if groundskeepers from the city’s Public Works department see someone or something that violates it.

The city’s Public Works Department received 21 complaints in 2012 and 13 complaints in 2013. However, it appears that many of those complaints were duplicates and do not represent a substantial number of violations. The city’s Public Works Department only has 12 employees.

For the city to enforce sidewalk violations, the complaint must be made in writing and must include a description of the problem along with an address. The city will investigate and respond if it determines there is a violation.

Lack of enforcement

The lack of enforcement is frustrating to some, who say they are outraged that sidewalks in front of their house have not been properly shoveled. These residents say the city has left them hanging and caused them physical harm when they stepped outside. Armed with video evidence, they have filed complaints and hired lawyers to help them get some satisfaction.

Who is liable if someone is hurt

There is an important question of who is liable if someone is hurt. The city says the homeowner is liable. This is because the city’s ordinance places the responsibility on property owners to remove snow and ice within 24 hours after a snowstorm has passed. The city says it is an issue of safety.

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