Neighbours can be great. They can lend you a cup of sugar, send you a friendly wave as you leave in the morning, and help you by picking up your mail when you’re away. But, neighbors can also be a headache and one of the worst culprits is the neighbour who never shovels his/her walk.
This is latest blog in the Neighbours Series offered by CPLEA. It will explore some of the bylaws regulating snow removal and it will look at some of the other legal mechanisms that are available to deal with snow shoveling slackers.
Snow removal bylaws
Cities such as Calgary and Edmonton have in-depth snow removal bylaws.
For example: Edmonton’s Community Standards Bylaw requires that all residents “clean the public walks around their property down to the pavement within 48 hours of a snowfall”. The bylaw also requires removal of hazardous icicles hanging from the roof of the property.
To find the snow removal bylaw in your community, consult your community’s website. Be careful which search terms you use: some communities might have a separate “snow removal” by law (like Lethbridge), other communities may have snow removal information imbedded in by laws with other names (for example, the City of Medicine Hat’s “Bylaw 1556, to control the use of streets in the City”).
What to do if snow removal by-laws aren’t followed
As is often the case with legal issues, many communities recommend that a first course of action be talking to your neighbor yourself. Sometimes, a respectful conversation is the quickest and most inexpensive method of solving a problem. However, as we all know, a conversation does not always work, and sometimes, it may not even be possible.
As a result, some communities offer a complaint process. For example, the city of Edmonton recommends a four-stage approach.
- Discuss the concern with the neighbor.
- If you can’t resolve it directly, record the address of the violation and a description of the problem.
- Call 311 or submit your complaint online.
- Provide your name, address, phone number, and the details of your concern in case your testimony is required in court.
Other cities offer other solutions, such as: leaving an anonymous note, leaving a hi-lighted copy of the by-law in your neighbour’s mailbox, and community mediation.
For information on options available in your community, consult your municipalities website.
Secondary bylaws that can affect snow removal
In many communities, there are also a few other bylaws that inadvertently effect snow removal. For example, a St. Albert man made national headlines in 2011 when he fought a fine for using his ATV to clear snow on a side walk, which was in violation of the city’s bylaw banning operation of ATVs and snowmobiles within city limits. The fine was eventually dropped, but the case provides a good example on how the bylaws that affect you might not be the ones that you initially think of.
Complaints against the city
Cities also have snow policies that the cities themselves required to follow. Edmonton’s snow removal policy requires that the city clear all trails and sidewalks adjacent to city land within 48 hours of a snowfall. It also covers the removal of windrows. Specifically, the city is not allowed to leave windrows of more than 30cm blocking driveways. However, anything below that height is the responsibility of the resident to remove. If the city doesn’t follow these procedures then you can call 311 and submit a complaint.
The bylaws mentioned above only apply to the sidewalks in front of your property, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to shovel the walks leading up to your door.
In general, home owners are required to maintain their property so that there is no risk of injury to visitors from slipping and falling on your property. If a resident doesn’t do this then they can be sued for negligence.
The definition of a visitor that is used in negligence cases is anyone that isn’t a trespasser. This includes people that are permitted to be on your property even without expressed invitation like the mail or paper carrier. This is true even live in a community where people often fail to shovel: in the case of Waldick v Malcolm the Supreme Court of Canada also established that custom is not a defence. In other words, the fact that shoveling does not usually occur, cannot be relied upon you protect you from liability.
But every negligence case is different and it is because of these differences that it is recommended that, if you have been hurt slipping on someone’s property, you contact a lawyer. The Law Society of Alberta offers a Lawyer Referral Program provides information on how to find a lawyer that specifies in negligence suits.
This is a guest post by Cameron Mitchell, a third year law student who is volunteering with the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.