Who Is Responsible for the Sidewalk in Front of My Property?Posted on October 01, 2021 by Rafael Cantillo
If you own property that fronts the street, you may assume that the municipality or local government is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk. However, this is not always the case.
Who is Actually Responsible for Sidewalk Repair and Maintenance?
As with so many other things, it depends on where you live. In some jurisdictions, the city is responsible for sidewalk repair.
However, this is seldom the case in California. California law allows municipalities to charge property owners, including homeowners, for repairs to the sidewalk outside their property. (In fact, virtually every major U.S. city places at least some sidewalk repair obligation onto owners).
In other words, you need to check local ordinances. If you own property that fronts the street, make sure to learn what liability you might have for sidewalk repair. Note that if you are liable for repair and/or maintenance you may also be liable for a slip and fall injury caused by poor sidewalk maintenance. Typically, this means you are also responsible for snow removal as needed, although this is not often an issue in southern California.
This can become particularly complicated if multiple property owners share a block. It's important to communicate with your neighbors and ideally work together to ensure all of the sidewalks are properly maintained. The sidewalk is often best maintained as a unit. This is to ensure that there are no sections that are, abruptly, dangerous, unsightly, or unusable.
(LDS Church, Aliso Viejo)
Exceptions to Your Responsibility
Most jurisdictions do include some exceptions, that is situations in which they will arrange and/or pay for repairs. The most common of these is damage caused by trees planted by the city or damage done by city workers in the course of their duty. If road maintenance is happening or if construction has taken over part of the sidewalk, you can reasonably expect the contractors to clean up and repair the damage and may want to go to the city or county if they don't.
As an example, in the City of Sacramento, per California Streets & Highway Code 5610 and Sacramento City Code, section 12.32, you are responsible for sidewalk repairs. On the other hand, the city is responsible for the curb, gutters, pedestrian curb ramps, and drains. However, Sacramento does not exempt you from responsibility for damage caused by public trees and roots.
What About Liability for Injuries?
You may be liable for injuries or damage caused by a fall that results from the sidewalk not being properly maintained. Whether you are or not depends on whether your municipality places a "duty to repair" on you. If they do not, then you are not liable for injuries unless:
- You have done work to alter the sidewalk for your benefit.
- You've caused damage to the sidewalk, for example by planting trees that then encroach on the sidewalk.
- You created a special hazard by, for example, leaving the product out on the sidewalk...even if this was done by a delivery driver.
Comparative negligence can come into play. For example, if your delivery driver leaves a large box on the sidewalk and somebody trips over it, a court is likely to rule that while the box should not have been there, the person who tripped bears some responsibility because they should have noticed the box. In this case, liability is assigned by percentage. Any damages you have to pay are reduced by the amount the court decides the injured party was responsible.
You may face similar liability issues for sidewalks that are on your property. These include those around parking lots or in front of a building that has been set back.
While you are not liable for issues with the sidewalk in front of a neighbor's property, if they are refusing to cooperate on repairs, you might want to call the city or county and report the problem.
How Should You Go About Sidewalk Repair?
In many jurisdictions, you can request that the city perform the repair, but they will then send you the bill. Often, though, this is limited to reactive repairs, not proactive improvements designed to avoid problems in the future.
If you are repairing a public sidewalk, first check what the requirements are. Many cities have codes that explicitly state how sidewalk repairs can be carried out. You need to choose a contractor who is aware of those requirements and experienced at working within them. Proactive repairs or work done to improve the sidewalk may require a permit.
Most sidewalks are concrete, giving you a number of repair options. If they are in particularly poor condition, you may need to have the concrete replaced. This is generally needed if a section of the sidewalk is sunken, uneven, raised, or broken. This should be fixed as soon as possible, whilst ensuring that you abide by whatever rules. The broken sidewalk is unsightly and opens you up to liability.
However, more minor cracks tend to be a simple repair. The contractor may use concrete grinding and crack filling to patch the crack. As long as the repair removes any unevenness, you should be fine. With cracked concrete slabs, the best option is often to remove and replace the individual slab.
While it might seem unfair that you are responsible for public sidewalks, the fact is that in many jurisdictions, including most of California, you have at least partial responsibility. This also means you have at least partial liability for any injuries, as well as having to worry about the aesthetic issues caused by damaged sidewalks. For many commercial properties, having a good sidewalk, with proper ADA compliance, helps attract foot traffic and can easily pay for itself.
If you have sidewalks that need work, contact Empire Parking Lot Services. We have lots of experience in concrete repair and replacement, as well as specifically repairing and replacing damaged sidewalks. We are familiar with all of the relevant codes and regulations in Southern California and make sure that your sidewalk repair project is done in a way that will keep the city happy.