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Most homeowners are aware that they do not own the sidewalk that surrounds their property – the municipality does. But as winter sets in and snow starts to fall, what does this mean for you?

Generally speaking, homeowners are not legally responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks surrounding their property. As the owner of the sidewalk, the municipality is ultimately liable under Ontario’s Occupiers’ Liability Act[1] for any injuries that occur as a result of hazards, such as ice and snow, on the sidewalk. The homeowner has no duty under this act to maintain the sidewalk.

However, this does not mean that all homeowners can completely neglect their sidewalks without consequence. Many Ontario cities, including Toronto and London, have enacted by-laws which require property owners to clear their adjacent sidewalks of ice and snow:

  • In Toronto, for example, all property owners located in areas that do not receive sidewalk snow clearing service from the City must remove snow and ice from the sidewalks surrounding their property within 12 hours after any fall of snow, rain, or hail has ceased.[2] Further, after the removal of ice and snow, the property owner must immediately, and as often as necessary, apply ashes, sand, salt or some other suitable material so as to completely cover the slippery surface.[3]
  • Similarly, in London, property owners located within certain retail areas must remove snow and ice from the portion of the sidewalk that is contiguous with their lot lines before 10:00 a.m. on any day that is not a holiday.[4]

Failure to comply with the above-noted by-laws may result in a fine. However, such failure does not typically make a homeowner liable for any injuries that occur on the sidewalk due to accumulated ice and snow – the municipality is still liable for that.

There are certain limited circumstances where a homeowner can be sued for injuries that occur on the sidewalk outside their property, however. If it is your actions that have created a hazard on the sidewalk, you can be held personally liable. For example, if a hose from your house pours water onto the sidewalk and it freezes causing someone to slip and fall, you can be held legally responsible.

Homeowners should be mindful of the by-laws that apply to their properties and take care not to create additional hazards.

[1] Occupiers’ Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.2

[2] Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 719-2(A)

[3] Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 719-2(B)

[4] City of London By-law S-1, Section 8.1

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