The question of who is responsible for snow shoveling and how space savers work are ones that have landlords, tenants and drivers digging through piles of state laws each winter.
With a potential storm barreling down on the Northeast from Friday into Saturday, take a minute to familiarize yourself with the snow removal protocol.
Landlords and renters: Who shovels what?
In 2010, the Supreme Court reversed a 125-year-old rule that allowed landlords to leave “natural” accumulations and were free from liability. It is now their legal duty to keep their properties free from dangerous snow and ice.
“Most of the other New England states were doing the same thing with their supreme courts, and it was causing a huge problem,” Boston real estate attorney Richard Vetstein said. “It depends on the type of property, but big buildings in places like Allston/Brighton, it’s their responsibility to dig out the egresses and stairs.”
All property owners, whether rental or owner occupied, can be held liable for not shoveling snow and salting the sidewalks, parking lots, driveways, steps and egresses of their buildings. Out-of-town landlords are required to hire someone in town to shovel their property.
If you were suckered into signing a lease that says the renter has to shovel out, don’t sweat it.
“Even if it’s in the lease, they still have the duty,” Vetstein said. “Last year the city really started cracking down and fining landlords for not doing their part. They’re trying to shift burden from city and tenants. Just because it’s in the lease doesn’t mean it’s legal.”
How soon do I have to shovel?
The laws in Boston give businesses three hours to clean snow off of their property, and six hours to residential buildings, or the landlord may face a fine. Obviously, it’s better to shovel early and often rather than wait for the storm to pass. If the storm hits in the middle of the night, cities like Somerville require people to shovel out a path by 10 a.m.
There is no clear-cut answer to how long a landlord has to shovel and salt their properties.
Spot-savers: Legality v. street justice
One of the many things that makes Boston unique is its relationship with its neighbors when it comes to shoveling out cars. Spot savers are a local phenomenon that have prompted many questions about how long they can be used and what happens if you are brazen enough to move someone else’s saver.
“It’s an unwritten rule, but the street is public,” Vetstein said. “There is no individual that has an ownership right just because they put in the legwork. The whole concept has no legal backing to extended space ownership, though you may get a black eye if you move a saver, which isn’t legal but is a real potential. This is a unique part of living in Boston, you don’t really see it elsewhere. It’s part of our folklore.”
Chicago, Pittsburgh and Boston are the cities best known for the iconic space-savers.
Initially, during the record-breaking winter of 2015, Mayor Marty Walsh said people could save their spots for “a couple of days.” This became more solidified, and drivers are r equired to move space savers 48 hours after a snow emergency is lifted.