MUSCATINE — With the city just now getting out from under all of the snow that fell over the weekend, a question still lingers: Who is responsible for clearing certain sidewalks?
According to Muscatine City Code, property owners listed on property records maintained by the Muscatine County Recorder’s Office, are responsible for clearing sidewalks of snow and ice within 24 hours of the last snowfall. Following the snowstorm that began Sunday and ended Monday morning, owners should have sidewalks cleared by now. But there are still some spots around town that are covered with snow and ice from Sunday's more than 13 inches of accumulation.
"City enforcement officials do not go out looking for violations of this ordinance, but do investigate complaints filed with the Community Development office," City Communications Manager Kevin Jenison said.
The Sidewalk Snow and Ice Removal clause in Section 3-1-4 of the city code applies to all property owners including residential rental units. A following section of the code regarding street obstructions, 3-1-7, states that snow and ice from private property, sidewalks and driveways may not be moved into the street as a means of clearing it from the property.
"Property owners are responsible, whether it is a single family home or an apartment complex, condominium, or a duplex," Jenison said. "Property owners may have the responsibilities delegated to the renter in their rent or lease agreement, but it is the property owner that we would issue a citation to."
After the allotted time for clearing sidewalks has passed, property owners will be notified by Community Development if they are in violation of the ordinance. At that time, the city gives owners a "reasonable" amount of time to comply or respond to the notice, typically several days, Jenison said.
If the issue isn't resolved after the grace period, sidewalks will be cleared by Public Works or a private contractor at the city's discretion, and the bill will go to the property owner. There are many reasons owners cannot or will not clear sidewalks, Jenison said, so the city will work with individuals to make the walkways safe for the public.
"The City willingly works with each property owner contacted to ensure that the sidewalks are cleared, even to the point of helping the property owner find someone to clear their sidewalks," Jenison said. "This is a public safety issue, and a clear sidewalk prevents a property owner from being sued for damages if a fall occurs on their property."
Community Development does have a list of owners facing possible action, but Jenison said the list is short, and the department "has a good track record of getting compliance rather than contracting out for snow removal and billing the homeowner."
Downtown area businesses have the option to clear sidewalks within the first 24 hours after snow falls. Jenison said some may or may not because the city contracts the clearing of the area sidewalks and parking lots during that time. Public Works crews, along with other streets in town, also assist with downtown snow removal by clearing on-street parking and roadways in the area.
"The most important thing to remember is that clearing your sidewalk(s) lessens the likelihood of someone suing over a fall on a snow packed sidewalk," Jenison said. "For public safety and for the property owners financial well-being, it just makes sense to clear your sidewalks yourself or to contract with someone to clear your sidewalk."