What Property Owners Need to Know About Snow Removal Laws

Eric Voight , Geri Jaffee


February 8, 2024

Snow plow plowing snow from a parking lot

As winter continues in the United States, many regions remain at an elevated risk for cold weather hazards, including snow, sleet, freezing rain, ice and cold waves. For commercial property managers, incidents involving snow and ice can turn into costly lawsuits if they are not addressed promptly. Icy walkways and snow-covered parking lots can lead to slips and falls or car accidents involving tenants or visitors to the property. Property owners can limit damage and their exposure to liability during the winter season by understanding the snow removal rules that apply to their properties.

Snow Removal Laws Differ from State to State

Property owners are responsible for keeping their properties safe for tenants, visitors and other third parties. While not every state has explicit snow removal laws, snow and ice can put people’s safety in danger, making it in the property owner’s best interest to clean and remove winter hazards as soon as possible once the storm subsides.

To reduce exposure to liability claims, property owners must be aware of the snow removal laws in their state and all the way down to the local municipal level to ensure they are adhering to all codes, statutes and rules within the required timeframes. For example, Illinois has no statewide requirements, but the city of Chicago requires that snow be removed by 10 p.m. if the storm occurred between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Knowing the exact requirements will better help property owners prevent incidents and establish a solid defense should a claim occur.

Understanding the “Snow in Progress” Defense

Incidents can still happen and third-party claims can still occur even if property owners take all the necessary precautions and remove snow and ice within a reasonable timeframe. In defending claims that arise from slips and falls or auto collisions due to snow and ice, property managers need to understand the duty of care and when the duty arises.

Many states, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have “snow in progress” doctrines, which set forth that a property owner does not have a duty to clear snow or ice during a snowstorm, but rather within a reasonable timeframe after the storm ends. These doctrines come into play when incidents occur before the storm ends or before it is reasonably safe for the property owner to begin snow and ice removal. While only nine states and the District of Columbia have “snow in progress” doctrines, these laws set the precedent that property owners have a defense for incidents that occur during winter storms.

Snow Removal Considerations

When it comes to risk management and claim prevention, property owners should prepare a snow and ice removal plan outlining the following:

  • Who will manage snow and ice removal (property employees or outside contractors)
  • Steps for thorough documentation of actions taken to control safety hazards related to winter weather
  • Pre-storm preparation including anti-icing strategies like using salt or brine on sidewalks and parking lots
  • What equipment needs to be kept onsite and who is responsible for making sure it is working and ready
  • A process for notifying and communicating with property employees, contractors and tenants about snow removal procedures and timing
Any preparation and prevention strategies that property owners can perform will ultimately help in the long run when claims arise. Property owners must document every precaution taken and when, as well as all removal and clean-up work as it happens, to ensure accurate timestamps. Having a plan and understanding snow removal requirements will set property owners up for the best possible outcome when winter storms arrive.
Eric Voight is a vice president and assistant risk control director at Conner Strong & Buckelew.
Geri Jaffee is a claim advocate and real estate specialist at Conner Strong & Buckelew.