Written By: Salvatore Shaw and Leah Burlock, Student-at-Law
With winter in full swing, it’s important to understand the law surrounding snow removal on your property. In Ontario, property owners owe a duty of care to ensure that in all circumstances, individuals entering onto their property are reasonably safe. If your driveway and walkways are slippery, you are required to take reasonable steps to make them as safe as possible. Failing to do so may result in liability for damages if someone falls due to slippery conditions and an action is subsequently brought against you.
In many cities in Ontario, including Toronto, by-laws have been enacted which require property owners to also clear the snow and ice from adjacent municipal sidewalks. For example, the Toronto Municipal Code states that all property owners that do not receive sidewalk snow clearing services from the city must,
“within 12 hours after any fall of snow, rain or hail has ceased, clear away and completely remove snow and ice from any sidewalk on any highway in front of, alongside or at the rear of the building. After the removal of snow and ice, if any portion of the sidewalk becomes slippery from any cause, the owner or occupant must immediately and as often as necessary apply to the sidewalk ashes, sand, salt or some other suitable material so as to completely cover the slippery surface.”
Failure to comply with the by-law in Toronto (and similar by-laws across the province) typically result in a fine issued by the city. Despite the expectations on property owners under a by-law, a municipality is ultimately responsible for injuries which occur on slippery sidewalks. However, in limited situations, liability for a fall on a municipal sidewalk may also fall on a homeowner, if the homeowner’s actions created the hazard on the sidewalk. For example, consider the case where a homeowner directs the downspout of his or her roof towards the sidewalk, which results in water from the roof accumulating on the sidewalk. This water then freezes and causes someone walking on the sidewalk to fall. In this situation, even though the homeowner was not intentionally trying to create a hazard, he or she may be found responsible for the injuries arising from the fall on the city’s sidewalk. Homeowners should take care to ensure that they are not creating such hazards and comply with any by-laws that apply to their properties. To be safe, you should always make a clear effort to remove any snow or ice from your property, and apply salt and/or sand when needed, to ensure your property is safe.