Rental Trends: What Landlords Need to Know About Snow Shoveling

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This biweekly sponsored column is written by the experts at Gordon James Realty, a local property management firm that specializes in residential real estate, commercial real estate and home owner associations. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

With a mild fall topped off with Christmas Eve temperatures in the 70s, preparing for snow is probably far from your mind.

But January is typically the coldest and snowiest month of the year in the region. So now is actually the perfect time to brush up on shoveling requirements in Arlington County and, if need be, buy a shovel and some salt while they’re still well stocked.

The shoveling issue can be especially tricky for landlords and renters, who may not know whose job it is to get rid of the white stuff – and how quickly – after it falls.

Arlington County law specifies that property owners are responsible for removing snow from all public sidewalks adjacent to their properties. Not clearing the snow can result in fines, not to mention a slippery and dangerous situation for tenants and other passers-by.

If you’re a renter, especially one living a single-family home or other single-unit dwelling, it is important to check your lease. Your landlord may have given you the job of shoveling, along with lawn mowing and other simple property maintenance tasks. If the lease doesn’t outline shoveling responsibility, it is a good question to clear up ahead of those first flakes.

If you’re a landlord and your tenant is responsible for shoveling, sending an annual reminder outlining requirements is a good idea. If you take care of snow removal, make sure you have the proper equipment or a contract in place with a local vendor. In addition to sidewalks, make sure you clear all walkways and stairs on the property to prevent injuries and avoid potential lawsuits.

No matter who shovels, there are rules to keep in mind to make sure you comply with the county snow ordinance:

  • A shovel-wide path won’t do. You have to clear the entire width of the sidewalk, up to 3 feet wide, so wheelchairs and strollers can pass.
  • Once the snow stops, you have 24 hours to get the shoveling done if less than 6 inches has fallen, or 36 hours for larger accumulations. The county will post the official snow ending time on its website.
  • You aren’t allowed to shovel snow from private property (your home) to public property (the street).

If a sidewalk remains snow covered after the time limit has elapsed, the county can opt to clear the snow and bill the owner for the cost.

The county could issue fines to property owners if the sidewalk isn’t cleared properly. For sidewalks less than 200 feet long, the fine is $50; for longer sidewalks, the fine is $100. Moving snow from private property to public property is considered a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a $250 fine.

And being out of town is no excuse for not shoveling, in the eyes of the county. So be sure to monitor the weather and make arrangements to get shoveling done while you’re away.

Some people are exempt from shoveling requirements, including owners who aren’t physically capable of shoveling. And technically, you can’t be fined if the county snowplow pushes snow back onto a sidewalk you’ve already cleared. But making sure the path remains clear will help keep you others safe, and it is part of being a responsible resident and good neighbor.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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