Shovelling the Snow, What’s the Law?

Posted by Naomi Wehby

While slip and fall injuries can occur at any time of the year, winter is an especially dangerous time for such accidents in Ontario. To protect public safety, many provincial cities require premises owners or occupiers to clear sidewalks of snow and ice. Further, Ontario’s Occupiers’ Liability Act provides victims of slip and fall accidents with the option to pursue compensation when an owner fails to maintain hazard-free premises.

Ontario’s City-Specific Laws on Clearing Snow and Ice from Walkways

A number of cities have enacted public ordinances requiring owners and occupiers to remove ice and snow from sidewalks. Below is a sampling of these city-specific laws:

  • Hamilton – Section 5 of the City of Hamilton By-law 03-296 regulates snow and ice removal from public sidewalks. It calls for home and business owners or occupants to clear such hazards from walkways – including the access ramps located at street corners. Snow and ice should be removed within 24 hours of accumulation. Snow that has been removed cannot be placed into the road or in a location that restricts access to a fire hydrant. Penalties for failure to comply include a notice of violation and fines that could reach as high as $5,000.
  • Ottawa – The city’s Property Maintenance By-law No. 2005-208 regulates the removal of snow and ice from sidewalks. It requires owners and occupiers to clear snow and ice on their property or adjacent to their property. Ice that cannot be removed should be mediated with the use of salt, sand or gravel. Further, building owners are required to clear snow and ice that may pose a public safety hazard (such as accumulation that can fall on passersby or later melt and refreeze onto the sidewalk creating an additional slip and fall hazard) from roofs. Those who fail to clear such property hazards are issued a notice to comply. Continued violation of the regulation may result in a financial penalty.
  • Toronto – The city’s Municipal Code Chapter 719 requires residential and business property owners to clear all property-adjacent walkways of snow and ice accumulation. This must happen within 12 hours of the snowfall. Failure to comply with this city ordinance may result in a fine totaling $125. Property owners and occupants are encouraged to use salt, sand or clay kitty litter in cases where ice is difficult to remove.

Many other cities in Ontario have enacted similar snow and ice removal ordinances.

Despite these by-laws, municipalities have an overriding duty to ensure that sidewalks are clear of snow and ice.  Failure by an adjacent property owner or occupier does not impute liability onto him or her.  It simply exposes him or her to fines while the municipality remains legally liable for any damages sustained.    In limited circumstances, however, adjacent property owners/occupiers can be held liable for damages and that is why it is so important to speak to a personal injury lawyer who is familiar with this complex area of law.

Other Ontario Laws Impacting Snow and Ice Removal

Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act requires landlords to assume the responsibility of snow and ice removal for apartment buildings and other rental properties. Meanwhile, Ontario’s Occupiers’ Liability Act provides slip and fall victims the right to hold property owners and occupiers financially responsible for accidents that occur because of hazards, such as snow and ice on sidewalks.