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Who is responsible for keeping sidewalks clear?

Snow is beautiful when it first falls, but it creates problems getting around Montana. Vehicles have a little help from snowplows that clear the streets, but pedestrians are not so lucky. Snow gets packed down and becomes icy if not cleared from the sidewalks. School-age children, dog-walkers, joggers and others all must use the sidewalks. Everyone is a pedestrian at some point when they get out of their vehicles and walk into work or a business, making icy sidewalks a universal hazard.

Missoula and other cities in Montana lay the responsibility for maintaining clear sidewalks at the feet of the property owner. Missoula Municipal Code 12.16 establishes the obligation of property owners to keep sidewalks in front of and next to their property clear of ice, snow, slush and mud, as well as other obstacles that can hamper pedestrian traffic. Repair of broken, crumbling sidewalks is also assigned to the property owner.

The ordinance includes not just the removal of these elements, however. It goes on to say that property owners should use sand or de-icing material to ensure safe passage, and make any repairs as well. Police officers are charged with reporting unsafe conditions along sidewalks and road crossings, as well as any accidents resulting from these conditions.

The city next decides if repairs are needed, and may make the repairs itself in the interest of public safety. However, the cost of repairs will be billed to the property owner. The city may also decide to clear a sidewalk and bill the property owner for its time. If the bill goes unpaid, the city may opt to bring suit against the owner or assess a tax that could lead to placing a lien on the property.

Homeowners and business owners who fail to remove snow and ice by 9 a.m. of the day after a snowfall may also be charged with a misdemeanor, with a minimum fine of $25 upon conviction. Each day the situation remains unresolved is then a separate offense and punishable by another misdemeanor and another fine.

Missoula takes safe sidewalks and crossings seriously. The city encourages pedestrians and motorists to report unsafe passages to city officials to help prevent accidents and injuries.

This is general information about icy sidewalks and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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