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‘Tis the Season: Prepare for Winter Weather by Revisiting Your Snow & Ice Removal Policies

January 7, 2016 Posted in Community Association Law

For community associations, winter weather can mean two things: injuries and expense. Not only is a community association responsible for ensuring common areas such as parking lots and sidewalks are properly cleared of snow and ice, but the association can also face liability in the event a resident or guest is injured due to negligent or insufficient snow removal protocol.

In order to avoid this disastrous result and enjoy the true beauty of the Northeastern winter months, be sure to work with an experienced community association law attorney in New Jersey and New York to finalize the details of your association’s snow and ice removal policy before the first storm hits!

Community Association Duties

In a residential community, associations are generally charged with ensuring the safety, maintenance and upkeep of all common areas – including parking lots, sidewalks, entryways, walkways, recreation facilities, roadways and courtyards. Although the bylaws may not specifically mention snow and ice removal as within the purview of the association’s responsibility, this is a task that must be addressed in order to avoid liability in negligence and personal injury.

An important question concerning snow and ice removal is the extent to which the snow and ice must be removed in order to reach the “reasonably safe” threshold mandated by negligence laws. Generally, an association must take reasonably prudent steps to ensure resident safety, which involves the following:

  • Arranging for prompt snow plow service to clear parking lots and/or parking areas
  • Ensuring residents have access to the roadways from their homes
  • Salting dangerous, inconspicuous ice patches in heavily-traveled areas
  • Monitoring weather conditions for possible dispatch of additional snow and ice removal services, if necessary

While it’s Snowing…

New York, like many other jurisdictions, follow the “Ongoing Storm” doctrine when it comes to ‘Nor’easters, blizzards and storms lasting several days.  This situation presents a difficult scenario for associations looking to avoid unnecessary expense while ensuring resident safety. In these scenarios, where snow can fall for days, it is often unclear whether a property owner should wait for the storm to pass before beginning cleanup efforts, or if efforts should be ongoing for the duration of the storm.

According to several courts, a community association “is afforded a reasonable time after the cessation of the storm or temperature fluctuations. . .to correct the situation.” (Olejniczak v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours and Co., 998 F. Supp. 274, 280 (W.D.N.Y. 1998). In other words, associations need not engage in “impractical efforts” and are most likely not required to clear snow and ice while a major storm is ongoing – even if conditions may lead to a fall or injury.

Choosing a Responsible Contractor

Another important issue to consider as a community association is the selection of a snow removal company. Associations can face liability for negligently hiring contractors with a history of property damage or negligent misconduct. Generally, an association should engage in due diligence when selecting a snow removal company, which can include any of the following steps:

  • Seeking referrals from neighboring community associations
  • Checking online reviews of the company
  • Asking for references from all companies in consideration
  • Requesting information about the company from the Better Business Bureau
  • Checking the company’s state business records for any history of liens or judgments

Contact a Reputable New Jersey and New York Community Association Lawyer Today!

If you are preparing for the upcoming winter months and have questions or concerns about your association’s policies and procedures in relation to New Jersey and New York community association laws, please contact Griffin Alexander, P.C. today!

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