LEGAL BRIEFING - Your sidewalk; your snow shovel

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Dear John,

With the recent snow, I had to go out and shovel the sidewalk in front of my house. It is an annoying chore that gets more difficult for me every year. Why doesn't the city have to come out and shovel it? Don't they own the sidewalks?

Sincerely,

Snow Shoveling Sam

Dear Snow,

I have had to spend some time outside performing this task recently as well. It would be nice if my two teenage children did it, but they just seem to want to roll each other around on the lawn rather than adequately rid the sidewalk of snow and ice.

Contrary to what may be commonly thought, the person who owns the sidewalk in front of the house is the homeowner. However, the city has reserved what is called an "easement" for the purpose of building sidewalks. An easement is the right to use the real property of another for a specific purpose. In fact, you probably have several other easements on your property, such as those needed for water and sewer lines and phone, cable and electricity wires.

An easement for the sidewalk was probably established in the original deed made when the house was built. It may have been part of the original plan submitted by the people who planned your neighborhood. Because of this, the easement is permanent.

A local municipal code reads: It shall be the responsibility of the owner of the property abutting upon a public sidewalk to maintain the sidewalk at all times in a safe condition, free of any and all obstructions or defects, including but not limited to ice and snow and tripping hazards. The code goes on to say that the cost of maintaining the sidewalk is also the property owner's responsibility.

I understand the difficulty that some people have maintaining their property. Busy schedules, demands of life and physical limitations make shoveling snow difficult for many people. It would be wonderful to live in a place where neighbors looked out for neighbors and helped with shoveling. Doing so would help to put the "ease" back into "easement."

Sincerely,

John

John Hartzell is a Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only. Have a question? Ask John at askjohn@wwub.com.

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