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Corin Cook

By: Corin Cook on December 1st, 2021

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Am I Required to Clear Snow from my Property? The Massachusetts Snow Clearing Law

Property Insurance | Home Insurance | State Laws | State Laws

Snow -- you either love it or hate it.

Personally, I love it … until it’s time to shovel. Then I quickly fall out of love with it until the next snowfall when it once again enamors me with its beautiful sparkly flakes and I forget all the ways it has wronged me in the past and I come crawling back.

So if you’re anything like me in your disdain for snow and ice removal, you may try to look for excuses to avoid it.

What if the snow falls on a weekend, or a vacation week, or if you just aren’t going anywhere and want to see if the snow melts a little on it’s own first? What if a storm happens when you’re sick and you don’t feel capable of clearing it? Or maybe you just want to put the snow removal off a little bit and enjoy a cozy snow day by the fire. 

If any of these situations apply to you, you may be wondering: do I really need to clear the snow?

The answer is: yes. In fact, not doing so in a certain way in a certain amount of time is illegal in Massachusetts. And on top of that, it could become an insurance liability issue. (Trust us, we’ve seen it here at Berry Insurance).

So in this article, we’ll go over what the snow removal law is, and the rules you need to specifically follow according to the state of Massachusetts and your town.

MA snow removal law:

According to MA law, all property owners can be held legally responsible for failing to remove snow and ice from property they own.

This means if you own any homes or businesses, you are required to remove snow from the property. 

So what are the requirements exactly?

The State Sanitary Code states “The owner shall maintain all means of egress at all times in a safe, operable condition and shall keep all exterior stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies and bridges free of snow and ice.”

Beyond that, specific requirements are up to the town your property is in. For example, each town has its own rules as to how much time property owners have to clear snow, and if property owners are required to clear public sidewalks. Some towns have separate requirements for businesses vs. residential properties. Some towns may fine you for throwing snow in the road or in other public areas.

That’s why it’s important to review your town’s specific rules so you don’t end up breaking the law. To find your town’s laws, you can review the town website, or contact the town hall.

What about rental properties?

When it comes to rental properties, owners are responsible for clearing snow -- just like in owner-occupied properties.

If you own a rental property but aren’t local and can’t clear the snow, you need to hire somebody to do it.

But, there is one exception to this rule.

MA law allows landlords to require the tenant to be responsible for snow removal in a lease provision. However, this only applies to single-unit rental properties. The exception does not apply to properties with more than one lessee.

It’s also important to keep in mind that even if the tenant is responsible for snow removal under a lease provision, the landlord still maintains liability for slip and falls on the property.

How soon do I have to remove the snow?

The time you have to remove the snow is one of those provisions that ranges from town to town.

For example, once the snow stops in Boston, businesses are required to clear snow in three hours and residents are required to clear snow in six hours. Worcester businesses and residents have ten hours.

Some towns may not base their limits on hours, but on times of day. For example, some towns may require you to shovel by 10 p.m. if the snow stops during the afternoon, and 10 a.m. if the snow stops falling overnight.

Be sure to review your town’s snow ordinances so you are aware of how much time you have to clear the snow from your property.

What are the consequences of not clearing snow?

You might be wondering “What happens if I don’t clear the snow in time.”

We get it. Sometimes issues come up or things don’t go as planned.

Regardless, if you don’t clear the snow from your property, your town or state could fine you. 

Keep in mind, even if you do clear the snow in time, you could still be fined for doing it incorrectly -- such as if you put snow on the street or another municipal property, or block a curb cut.

But, if you don’t properly clear the snow, there could be more serious consequences than just a fine.

Snow and ice can be dangerous, so if you don’t make it safe, you could have an accident on your property and a lawsuit on your hands.

Your homeowners insurance covers liability against slip and falls, so you should always make sure you have enough liability insurance (and maybe even an umbrella insurance policy). 

Protect your property (and yourself) from winter hazards

Whether you love it or hate it: the snow is on the way.

So whenever the snow hits the ground this year, remember to clear the snow promptly and correctly in order to obey the law, and to reduce injury and lawsuit risks.

But aside from snow and ice, winter presents several hazards to property owners.

Between ice dams, frozen pipes, tree falls, roof collapses, wind and hail damage, fires, and more, winter can be a harsh time for property owners.

So before winter strikes, you should take steps to prepare and protect yourself against any of these risks. And we have some resources for that!

If you’re a residential property owner, check out this article: Avoiding Common Winter Home Insurance Claims.

If you’re a business owner, check out this article: Avoiding Common Winter Business Insurance Claims.