Dear Piggy: Does anybody shovel around here?

So did any of you have this running through your head last week? I know I did.

Yes indeed, I’m a child of the 90’s and we had snow last week here in Chicago. Quite a bit of it. And it prompted one of my regular readers to send in a question:

Dear Piggy,

How about an entry on how you can be fined if you don’t clear snow from your sidewalks, including tenants (and that you can call 311 if people AREN’T clearing)?

So that means we’re talking about shoveling today.

Who owns the sidewalk?

There is a strip of land in front of most buildings that belongs to the city. In some areas there’s a green space beyond the sidewalk that almost always belongs to the city – this is called the parkway. Ownership of the sidewalk and the parkway depends on precisely where your property line falls. A survey will tell you if the sidewalk is officially yours or if it belongs to Chicago. Most of the time it belongs to Chicago. The same property law magic that allows kids to use your sidewalk without you calling them pesky is applicable when it comes to snow.

“Get off my sidewalk” doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

Regardless of where the line falls, though, property owners are expected to maintain sidewalks and parkways on behalf of the city. There’s simply not enough city money & laborers to keep it all in good shape. In fact, the city even requests that residents put up half of the cost for repaving sidewalks if they want to get them replaced in a reasonable timeframe.

Who has to shovel?

With that in mind, all residents are jointly responsible for clearing sidewalks on behalf of the city. This means not only the sidewalks in front of where you live, but also the ones on vacant lots nearby and side access walks used by, say, postal carriers to get to your door. If it’s got snow on it, it is everyone’s joint responsibility as citizens of Chicago to get those walks clear. This means that if you’re a renter and your landlord isn’t handling it, you should get a shovel and get it moving, for the good of everyone on the block.

… Yeah, like that’s going to happen. What really happens is that people shovel because they’ll get fined if they don’t.

Unless a lease specifically pins shoveling duty on the tenant, it’s the landlord and/or property manager who will get fined for leaving sidewalks uncleared. This means that the (white, fluffy) burden is on the landlord to get them clean.

How much do you have to shovel?

If your sidewalk is less than five feet wide, you’ve got to do all of it. Otherwise, a five foot wide path is sufficient. This means that those tiny, narrow paths that are barely one shovel-width across are not good enough. Even a single pass with a snowblower is probably not going to be enough.

You need to clear at least the walk out front of your property and the route used by the postal folk to get from the street to your mailbox.

Remember, you have to leave room for these guys, too:

People in wheelchairs need a wider walk. (From

People with groceries. People with mail carts.
People with dogs & strollers. (Photo by Tom Liddy for

When do you need to have it finished?

If it’s Sunday, you can wait until 10am Monday.

If the snow stops falling and it’s still light out, you’ve got 3 hours to clear it.

If the snow stops falling after dark, you have until 10am the next day to clear it.

What if you don’t get it done?

If you’re a regular property owner and don’t shovel the public walk, you can get hit with a $50 fine.

If you don’t shovel the path from the street to your mailbox, the post office can suspend delivery until it’s clear.

If you’re a landlord and you don’t shovel, you’re violating municipal code, which means you’re also in violation of the Chicago landlord tenant ordinance (CRLTO). Lucky you.

If you’re someone who doesn’t shovel on a regular basis, you can expect to get passive-aggressive little signs all over your door and nasty looks from your neighbors.

What if you shovel and someone falls down anyhow?

In Chicago, provided that you make a good faith effort to shovel thoroughly, promptly and properly, you’re generally protected from slip-and-fall liability. This means you have to get it done within the proper time limit, make that 5 foot path, and not leave the excess snow piled up in massive drifts that could fall down and hurt someone.

What if you can’t shovel?

If for some reason you’re unable to shovel before the deadline, you need to get someone else to handle it. This includes people who are at work for the 3 hours after it stops snowing. The city has a great site at that lets people adopt sidewalks and ask the volunteer Snow Corps for assistance. (The Snow Corps mostly focuses on helping the elderly and those with medical excuses, so if you’re just too busy to shovel you may want to kick a tenner over to that kid down the street instead.)

I just fell down on an icy walk! How can I get revenge?

If you found this article using those search terms, I’m sorry you fell down. Please, have some cocoa and warm up a bit.

Unfortunately, there’s no legal way to brand a building permanently as owned by shoveling scofflaws, but you can rat out buildings to the city if they don’t follow the rules above. Either call it in to 311, or use Chicago’s online service request website to file a “snow uncleared” complaint, or use the “SeeClickFix” app on your phone to report it.

Or offer to clear the sidewalk yourself for a small (or large) fee.

Or hang little passive-aggressive signs on their door.

Whichever makes you feel better.

I’ll be back Wednesday with a little refresher on changes in the local sales market. See you then!