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My landlord lives out of the country. Do I really have to shovel the snow for him?

By Virginia K. Smith  | February 8, 2016 - 11:59AM

Q: I rent in a townhouse with roommates, and our landlords live abroad. Since they don't have a property manager, it often falls to me to shovel the sidewalks out front. (The landlord requires us to shovel the snow, but there's no written provision for that in our lease.) I'd like to ask the landlord to hire someone to do this, but I'm unclear—is snow removal the responsibility of the building's owners, its current residents, or both?

While your landlord is legally responsible for clearing the sidewalks, your best bet in this situation might be to strike up a compromise, say our experts. "The primary responsibility for shoveling is on the homeowner," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations. "And the tenant would never get a ticket [for un-shoveled sidewalks] in this situation, just the homeowner."

That said, the wording of housing code does technically put the onus on "every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any lot or building" to clear the walks, and if your landlord's rider requiring you to shovel is in writing, that's likely enforceable should the issue go to court, says Himmelstein.

The real bottom line here, though, is that you're a conscientious neighbor and don't want to leave your sidewalks an icy, dangerous mess just to prove a point to the landlord. Rather than try to force the landlord to hire a property manager, you might want to strike up a deal for lower rent or a guaranteed lower rent increase in exchange for your manual labor. "It's certainly something that could be negotiated, where the tenant could take on this responsibility in exchange for lower rent," says Himmelstein.

We've got more tips on that process here on how to barter with your landlord for cheaper rent, and word to the wise? Whatever you and the landlord agree to, get it it in writing this time.


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