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Let’s talk about obligations for snow removal on sidewalks under the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board’s (MAAB) rules and regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).Photo of Massachusetts State House during snow storm

Your municipality may have an ordinance or bylaw requiring you to clear the sidewalks that abut your home or business. The Massachusetts Office of Geographic Information (MassGIS) maintains a “Sidewalk Snow Removal Map” which indicates whose responsibility it is to clear the sidewalks within each MA community.

Regardless of whether a municipality, resident or business is obligated to remove the snow along their property, it is important to know that there are obligations to remove the snow from the sidewalks within a reasonable period of time after the snow stops.

The building codes that address snow removal on sidewalks are the MAAB regulations, which require access features to be maintained and fully operational at all times under Section 2.6 – Maintenance of Access Features.   For this purpose, the sidewalk is the access feature and keeping it clear of snow is the maintenance obligation.  However, section 2.6 first appeared in the 1996 revision of the MAAB regulations and therefore only applies to access features installed, renovated or constructed after 1996.  This means that if a sidewalk was installed, renovated or constructed prior to 1996, the MAAB would not have jurisdiction over the issue.  However, if the sidewalk was installed, renovated or constructed after 1996, then the MAAB would have jurisdiction and a building code complaint could be filed on the issue.

In analyzing the civil rights aspect of this issue, we look to the ADA federal regulations, which also require Maintenance of Access Features under Section 35.133 (Title II) and 36.211 (Title III). Unlike the MAAB, the year of the installation, renovation or construction of the sidewalk is irrelevant to the obligation to keep the sidewalk clear of snow. The sidewalk clearing must provide, at a minimum, a 36 inch path of travel that is clear of ice and snow.

The timeframe for clearing the snow is determined by the length of time and the amount of snowfall.  Although no official guidance is given, other than a “reasonable period of time,” the Federal Highway Administration, in its “Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety Research Report – 2.3.2 Snow and Ice Removal” explains that these “timeframes could range from 2-72 hours after a snowfall.” The report goes on to suggest that “All time-frames must balance the needs of pedestrians and provide a reasonable amount of time for property owners to remove snow.”

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Assistant Director, Community Services Program

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