Snow: A Philly Primer (p.s. shovel your sidewalk).

January 21, 2012
The view out my window this morning.

Time to get the shovel.

[Ed. note Jan. 4, 2014 – If you’re coming here from Fishtown Neighbors Association‘sΒ Facebook post, welcome! Leo originally wrote this back on January 22, 2012, but we’re pretty sure the same rules still apply.]Β 

Well, we finally got our first snow of the winter here in Philadelphia. And while it’s no blizzard, we nevertheless need to address the thorny issue of snow removal.

The Philadelphia City Code 10-720 – Snow Removal from Sidewalks.
As much of a PITA as it might be to get up out of your warm bed early in the morning, you should get that walk shoveled ASAP.

Under the city code, you have six hours from the time snow has stopped falling to get out there and clear a path three feet wide on your sidewalk.

If your sidewalk is less than three feet then you’re allowed to clear a path only a foot wide. If you’re a tenant in a single home, you probably have to clear the sidewalk yourself.

If you live in a multi-family building, it’s the landlord or management company’s responsibility to take care of show shoveling (though it’s likely your lease says that you’re supposed to shovel).

But Β remember that you can’t just shovel it right into the street, either – that’s a no-no under the rules.

And if you neglect to shovel, you could face city fines between $50 and $300! What a way to ruin a snow day.

Finally, if you see an area that’s seriously impeding people getting around the city, you could always call theΒ Streets Department Customer Affairs Unit at (215) 686-5560 to report a non-shovelerΒ – though you might as well just be a good neighbor and shovel it yourself. Call it your good deed for the day.

Shoveling Out Your Spot – A Lesson inΒ Etiquette.
Few things get a Philadelphian as hot under the collar as spending the time to shovel out a car, only to have someone else swoop in and steal the fruits of his labor. According to urban legend (and reputable news sources as well), the spot thief may suffer from any number of maladies, from bricks through the windshield, to slashed tires, to acute lead poisoning.

ThoughΒ Philly parking spot etiquitte has been written about many,Β many times, lets distill it to three simple rules:

  1. If you take the time to shovel it, it’s rightfully “yours”, and you may place a parking chair there for a reasonable period of time while snow is still on the ground.
  2. Don’t steal the spot another person shoveled.
  3. If you leave a cone, lawn chair, or trash can in the street even after the snow has gone, people can and will remove the marker and park there. Serves you right for leaving your dammed parking chair in the street for so long.

Sure, the age-old tradition of saving spaces is actually illegal, as are vandalism or physical assault in retaliation.

But think about it from a Fred Rogers’ perspective: does a good neighbor take a spot that another took the time to shovel out?

Do I have to Worry About Slip & Fall Lawsuits?
As we’ve all learned through experience, ice and gravity aren’t a good combination. But do you have to worry about a lawsuit if someone falls on ice or snow in front of your property?

Pennsylvania law requires that where there’s a general accumulation of snow and ice, a court should apply the “hills and ridges” rule.Β This means that a plaintiff who slips and falls because of generally icy and snowy conditions must prove two things:

  1. There was some sort of defect in the walkway that the landowner previously knew or should have known about, and
  2. The defect, rather than the snowy and icy conditions alone, caused her fall.

This doctrine applies only in snowstorms or in generally icy conditions. As the PennsylvaniaΒ Supreme Court put it in Williams v. Schutz, 240 A.2d 812, 813-814 (Pa. 1968):

proof of hills and ridges is necessary only when it appears that the accident occurred at a time when general slippery conditions prevailed in the community as a result of recent precipitation… the law, wisely, does not require that such abutting owner keep the sidewalk free from snowΒ and ice at all times: to hold otherwise would require the impossible in view of climatic conditions …

[T]hese formations are natural phenomena incidental to our climate … Since it is virtually impossible for a property owner to keep his sidewalk completely free of ice orΒ snow when general slippery conditions exist, and since under these conditions a pedestrian is better prepared to exercise a greater degree of caution when traversing the ice orΒ snow, courts have been reluctant to permit recovery without a showing of hills and ridges.

In plain English – Pedestrians: pay attention and walk carefully. Landowners: shovel and salt your walks.

Where a landowner can run into problems, though, is where he initially shovels and salts, only to have lower temperatures cause ice to re-freeze into a slippery mess:

[W]here a specific, localized, isolated patch of ice exists, it is comparatively easy for a property owner to take the necessary steps to alleviate the condition, while at the same time considerably more difficult for the pedestrian to avoid it even exercising the utmost care. Id.

Translated from legalese: if you see ice in front of your house that is somehow localized and notΒ the pure result of natural forces, get rid of it pronto. Otherwise you might be on the hook if someone takes a spill in front of your house and hurts herself.

That’s it for a quick primer on rules of the snow here in the City of Brotherly Love. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to stop writing about it, get out of my pajamas, and go shovel my own walk.

***Note: I do not, in any way, endorse retaliation against anyone for spot stealing. While it might be considered rude, it’s no reason to escalate the situation to vandalism or violence. Really, just take the extra 20 minutes to shovel a new spot.