The sidewalk shoveling shuffle

James Neiss/staff photographerMike Difino of Adams Street is a home owner and a landlord. Adams said he takes on the added responsibility of shoveling his next door tenants' driveway and sidewalk.

Trying to enforce the city's sidewalk shoveling ordinance each winter is like trying to get every single Lockport property owner to put their garbage out perfectly or cut their grass in a timely fashion.

It's next to impossible, but they keep fighting the good fight.

Lockport Building Inspector Jason Dool and staff have issued several sidewalk shoveling notices to residents in recent weeks — most following the receipt of a specific complaint. Dool said most of the time — as with grass-cutting violations — the complaints involve vacant properties or those going though foreclosure.

The problem with snow shoveling notices is that property owners are given five days to appeal before the city's Zoning Board of Appeals — which meets once a month — and in a lot of cases, by that time, the snow's melted.

“The problem with whole thing is we only have a Zoning Board meeting once a month, so sometimes these things can be kicked down the road for 30 days and by that time, it's no longer an issue,” Dool said.

“It's easier enforcing our grass-cutting ordinance because it isn't just going to go away on its own. It just keeps growing. It's different with snow.”

The Lockport Common Council discussed the city's sidewalk shoveling ordinance at its virtual work session last week.

Alderwoman-at-Large Ellen Schratz said she had received phone calls from constituents asking whether tenants or the landlord were responsible for shoveling sidewalks.

Dool, along with assistant city attorneys Pat McGrath and Jason Carafella all said it's the property owner who receives a notice from the city.

“At the end of day, our ordinance states clearly that it's the owner of the property who is required to clean all snow and ice from a public sidewalk,” Dool said.

However, many landlords have contractual agreements with their tenants that state if they're fined for a building code issue due to a tenants' negligence, that money is due to the landlord, they said.

“As a practical matter, if you own property and someone falls on your sidewalk, you've got a lawsuit,” McGrath said.

“Common sense should tell people to clear a path to anyone who might be walking.”

The city will, in extreme cases, continue to exercise its right to remove snow and bill the property owner for the work, officials said.

“To make a long story short, we're out doing the best that we can by leaving notices for people to shovel their sidewalks,” said Dool, whose department is operating without a code enforcement officer presently due to a retirement. That position could be filled as early as this week.

Mayor Michelle Roman told the council that she's going to look into a program currently underway in North Tonawanda where kids can volunteer to shovel driveways and sidewalks for seniors and others with disabilities.

“I've taken my dog out for a walk and was pleasantly surprised to see that so many people have shoveled,” she said. “I'd like to thank those people, including the ones who've shoveled out the street corners. I don't want to just harp on the ones who don't do it. Out of all the houses on this one street, only four had not shoveled. The rest made the effort and it's greatly appreciated.”

Follow John D’Onofrio on Twitter with “Good Morning, Lockport, N.Y.” weekday mornings at @LockportJournal.

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