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Ask an Expert (Snow Day Edition): Do renters have to shovel?

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Q.  I’m renting the second floor apartment of a two-family home where my landlord lives on the first floor.  Nowhere is it written in the rental lease who is responsible for shoveling the snow in my driveway.  As a result, and with all the storms we’ve had this far, I’ve had to shovel many times because I can’t depend on my landlord to do it.  Is there an unwritten rule that holds my landlord legally responsible since it’s his property?  

A.  Sidewalk shoveling is clearly the responsibility of your landlord in the eyes of the law, but responsibility for other areas, like driveways, is less defined, says real estate lawyer Steve Wagner.   Since your lease doesn't address responsibility for clearing snow, the answer probably comes down to whether (1) you have exclusive control over your driveway, or (2) the driveway is shared.

"If the tenant leases the driveway, it is the tenant who is responsible for shoveling," says Wagner. But if the driveway is shared, tenants are typically viewed as having a "license" to use it rather than exclusive control.  

In the absence of a contrary provision in the lease, says Wagner, "a license would shift the burden to shovel to the landlord because the landlord would likely control the driveway."

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