A friend of mine likes to say that New York City is so expensive that just leaving your apartment will cost you $20. It cost me $100 to leave my apartment the other day – in fines for leaving a piece of furniture by the curb on a day not designated for “bulk trash removal.”
I get it: leaving bulky trash all over the sidewalk for days on end is an antisocial thing to do, especially in a crowded city. I wouldn’t have felt great about myself if a kid had somehow tripped and hurt herself on my discarded garbage.
My landlord could also have landed in legal trouble had that happened. That’s because NYC law makes property owners responsible for keeping sidewalks “reasonably safe” and clear of debris (with some exceptions). “Reasonably safe” also includes shoveling snow and ice – something I’m always grateful for after the occasional NYC blizzard.
New York is not alone. Many jurisdictions across the country put the onus on property owners for maintaining sidewalks, including clearing snow and ice (even if the sidewalks are city property).
If you’re a property owner, it’s important to check your city or homeowner’s association codes to see who is responsible for what. If you rent, you should also check your lease. Some leases make tenants responsible for clearing snow from sidewalks.
Let’s say you do live in a city where you’re responsible for keeping the sidewalk safe. What happens if someone slips and suffers injuries on your sidewalk?
Homeowners insurance could provide some coverage. Depending on the case, there could be coverage for liability and for some medical payments to the injured person. But an insurance company could deny coverage if the homeowner knew about an unsafe sidewalk and did nothing to fix it.
And liability payments can get expensive quickly. That’s why some people will also buy optional “personal umbrella liability coverage,” which has a higher payment cap than standard homeowners.
Renters insurance also provides liability coverage. But whether the tenant or landlord is responsible for a slip and fall on a sidewalk would depend on the terms of the lease and local ordinances.
The upshot is: check if you’re responsible for the sidewalks outside your home. It’s also a good idea to chat with your insurance agent to see if you have the appropriate coverage to protect you from liability costs.