All Massachusetts property owners have a duty to use “reasonable care” for the protection of visitors and are legally responsible for the removal of snow and ice from their property. This duty extends to Landlords, who are responsible for snow removal at their rental properties. The sanitary code requires property owners to keep all means of egress free from obstruction.
Landlords must maintain all entrances and exits in a safe, operable condition at all times. This includes keeping all exterior stairways, walkways, fire escapes, and doorways free of snow and ice. These responsibilities cannot be avoided or transferred by any lease provision.
The landlord may only require the tenant to remove snow and ice only when a tenant has an independent means of egress not shared with other tenants, and the requirement is contained in a written lease agreement.
Therefore, in situations where an occupant in a single or multi-family home has their own exclusive entrance, be sure to review the lease to determine who is responsible for snow removal. However, placing this responsibility on the tenant may still not protect the landlord from liability if someone is injured on the property due to snow and ice.
Snow removal is also a critical consideration for sellers during the winter months. Failure to properly clear snow and ice places a seller at risk of liability for visitors’ injuries.
Realtors® should advise their home sellers to remain diligent in their snow removal efforts or hire an insured company to clear snow and ice on their behalf. Realtors® should not take on the responsibility of snow removal on behalf of their sellers because they may be exposing themselves and their clients to liability for injuries.
Realtors® should advise their clients to:
(1) Ensure they have adequate insurance coverage;
(2) Determine whether those hired to remove snow and ice have insurance; and
(3) Be vigilant when there is newly fallen snow, melting or freezing.
If complete clearing is not possible, warning signs may be appropriate. Clients that have specific questions regarding their duty to clear snow should consult their attorney.