As any good co-op or condo building administrator knows—either through common sense or painful experience—failing to clean up snow or ice promptly can result in injuries, acrimony, and expensive lawsuits. Any one of those is reason enough to get serious about snow and ice control around your building, but in the current economic climate, the threat of massive legal bills is very real, and very scary. Litigation has become far more prevalent than it used to be, and insurance companies don't have the same protection that they used to have under state law. As a result, many are passing expenses and legal costs on to current clients.
So what’s a conscientious board to do when the snow flies and the sidewalk outside the building or complex is covered in a sheet of ice? Bone up, primarily. It’s your job—and knowing both what the law has to say about your responsibilities as a board as well as what products and technologies are out there to help you with you task are important pieces of the puzzle for multifamily communities.
It’s the Law
In New York, liability for a slip-and-fall accident can fall either on the property upon which the accident happened, or on the city itself—but it's usually the former. According to the legal blog www.avvo.com, “It is well established that the City of New York will not be held liable for accidents resulting from snow or ice on its sidewalks unless a reasonable time has elapsed between the end of the storm giving rise to the icy condition and the occurrence of the accident. Cooke v. City of New York, 300 A.D.2d 338, 751 N.Y.S.2d 536 (2nd Dept. 2002). However, where the city's snow-removal efforts create the icy condition or exacerbate a natural hazard created by the storm, the city may be found liable even when a storm is still in progress. It must be remembered that the city...is not always responsible for the removal of snow and ice from the public sidewalks. Under certain situations it is the duty of the abutting property owner. See, Administrative Code of the City of New York § 7-210.
That last bit regarding 'the duty of the property owner' should never be far from any manager or board's mind as the weather forecasts call for icy rain, slush, and snow in the five boroughs, says Jon Kolbrener, an attorney and partner with the Manhattan-based law firm Braverman & Associates.
“What constitutes ‘reasonable time’ depends on numerous factors, including but not limited to the severity of the storm, the amount of precipitation involved, the amount of accumulation, the temperature, and winds causing drifting,” explains Kolbrener. “The City Administrative Code provides that snow must be removed within four hours of the time it stops falling—excluding the hours between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. The Code also provides that snow and ice that are frozen so hard they cannot be removed are to be treated with ashes, sand, sawdust or some similar material until it is possible to thoroughly clean them.”