A proposal to tighten the grace period in Albany for clearing snowy sidewalks

unshoveled sidewalk blizzard 2017-March

Update: The Common Council passed the proposal October 2. [TU]
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Despite the recent run of warm weather, winter will eventually arrive here. And when it does, it will snow. And when it snows, some people will not shovel their sidewalks.

In the city of Albany, property owners have 24 hours after a snowfall to clear their sidewalks. But because of the way the law is written, the actual grace period is more like two days (or even longer) -- and that's even if there's a complaint.

So now the Albany Common Council is considering a change that would allow the city to crack down on the unshoveled in a shorter period of time.

How things currently work

The current city code requires property owners to clear sidewalk within 24 hours of a snowfall. If that doesn't happen and there's a complaint, the Department of General Services can issue a notice to the property owner to clear the walk. The property owner then has another 24 hours from that complaint to act.

If there's no action after that second day, DGS can asses a fine and do the work of clearing the sidewalk itself, the cost of which it then bills to the property owner.

The proposed change

Common Council member Leah Golby -- who represents the 10th ward in the Pine Hills neighborhood until the end of this year -- has proposed a change to the ordinance that does away with that second 24-hour grace period. So if someone files a complaint with the city about an unshoveled sidewalk after the first 24 hours, DGS can send a crew out, confirm it's unshoveled, immediately issue the violation and get to work clearing the walk.

"The ordinance is designed to make our streets safer for people who walk," Golby said during the Common Council's Law, Buildings and Code Enforcement committee Tuesday evening.

Albany Common Council law committee meeting 2017-09-26

DGS commissioner Daniel Mirabile appeared before the committee and said the proposed change has his department's support. Mirabile said the change would streamline DGS's response in these sorts of situations because it would no longer have to send a crew out twice for a complaint. He also suggested the updated ordinance require property owners to clear sidewalks in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he said would prohibit people from clearing just a small path through the snow instead of the walk's full width.

The most frequent concern about the change cited by other members of the law committee in attendance -- Joe Igoe, Richard Conti, Judy Doesschate, and Michael O'Brien, as well Mark Robinson, who was sitting in on the meeting -- was the potential effect it might have on property owners who are seniors or otherwise have trouble clearing their walks. Conti raised the possibility of there being some sort of registry to match seniors with people who are willing to help shovel.

(Brian Shea -- the chief of staff of for mayor Kathy Sheehan -- said this week the administration is looking into whether there are already agencies or non-profits that have such a service.)

The committee voted 4-0 in favor of moving the proposed ordinance, with the ADA provision, to the full council. Golby said after the meeting via email she's planning to ask for a vote at the Common Council meeting October 2.

If approved by the full council, the change would take effect December 1.

What are the fines?

In case you're curious, here are the fines the city can assess for unshoveled sidewalks:

+ First violation: $100

+ Second violation within three months: $200

+ Third violations within three months: $300

+ Each violation after that within six months: $300

(These fines were increased in 2011, in another change proposed by Leah Golby.)

The city can also charge the property owner for the cost of clearing the walk, and by law, that amount is no less than $75.

The city code doesn't specifically require that a complaint be made for a property owner to get tagged for a violation. And Daniel Mirabile, the DGS commissioner, told the committee Tuesday that sometimes crews will tag other adjacent properties when responding to a complaint. But in practice, the system is almost totally complaint driven, he explained, because the department doesn't have the resources to patrol streets looking for uncleared walks -- especially during a large snowfall event when crews are stretched because of road clearing.

To file a complaint with DGS, call 518-434-2489 with the exact address and cross streets of the location.

Earlier

+ On uncleared streets and expecting better

+ Snow emergency FAQ

+ Miss Pearl: What should I do about the neighbors who don't shovel their sidewalk?

Comments

I was talking to a couple of the girls from the Mormon Church on New Scotland last winter and they said they will go out and shovel for anyone. They actually had a card with a number for people to call but of course I have since lost it.

It would be nice if neighbors helped out the older people in their areas. Honestly though I've found it's not the elderly homeowners that are the problem.

I've been lead to believe state and federal governments get a pass, and so does school district. Doesn't deal with issue of city plowing that eff' stuff up.. especially intersection.
Brian shea's babbling is ludicrous.. It is worse than useless. If you can find someone to do it,, you often have NO control over when they will show up. I can't shovel any more.. and I have someone to do so.. but I'm at his mercy. He's a good guy, but if he has to choose between plowing a nurse out to get to work at hospital and blowing the snow off a sidewalk for a retired woman.. he picks the first.
There's a reason Leah Golby wasn't re-elected,.

How could you propose such a
militaristic ordinance ? it reflects a strong desire
punish & true lack of understanding of the culture
and the reality of the hard working people of this
People of this city . Pretty clear you must not work
It You are well off enough to have someone shovel
At your will .

Thank you. I've been trying for years to get absentee landlords to clear their sidewalks. It's a known responsibility in a 400 year old city that gets snow every single year. It's not rocket science and it's common human decency to protect the most basic of public safety needs in the city.

I know my neighbors, too, so I know who is capable of clearing and who might need my help - so o help those folks that need it. Because I'm a decent human being. I've got to be honest though, for the most part it's the perpetrators are owners of houses registered to a LLC with a downstate or NJ mailing address.

So, if I clear the snow once, and the plow fills it in again, can I turn around a bill the city on the same scale?

$100 the first time, $200 for the second, and so on?

Personally, I say go ahead.

Enjoy getting the money out of me. It'll take you years, and cost you more than that in legal fees.

This is a nice quality of life improvement, increases pedestrian safety....and not burdensome to most homeowners. The investment properties (both occupied by tenants and vacant) and small retail seem (to me) to be the problematic property owners. Bravo.

Center Square resident here who's in favor of fines. I think there should also be some language stating a toe path between mountains of snow isn't shoveling your sidewalks, but an advertisement of your poor character. The laziness of some people is amazing. I'd suggest the pillory for repeat offenders but realize I am a BIT hopped up on coffee right now...

It's nice to see the city trying to be more proactive on snow removal. My wife has been pregnant three separate times and each pregnancy has overlapped with the dead of winter. Going for daily runs / walks during those snowy months was crucial to us as part of maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Especially after kid #1 + 2 when every walk/run also included a stroller.

More important than any fine amount to me is simply having the snow removed. You could fine some absentee landlord or guy like Bill (above) and send a message, but in the meantime the snow is just sitting there and nobody is shoveling it. So yeah, great on the city for addressing that part of the issue.

I second the comment on absentee landlords. It is not the homeowners who are the problem but the properties owned by the LLCs. I am all for fines for those folks!

This would be a nice change for those of us in H/P or Center Square. Those of us who do shovel timely tend to take care of our friendly neighbors while we are at it and keep things clean.

Anecdotally, who doesn't? Absentee landlords of abandoned buildings, homes with only renters, and...bad business owners. I'm thinking specifically of "The Tillerman" (Frank Commisso Jr.'s former HQ) space at Jefferson and Swan. In four or five years, that sidewalk has NEVER been cleared within 24 hours--and in the freak March storm this year, it wasn't cleared for four days. Ditto with the defunct dry cleaners space over near Hudson-Jay Park. School properties tend to be a mess too, and so does the Boys and Girls Club on Delaware Avenue. I could go on.

This ordinance is not going to solve all of our snow issues with a blink of an eye, but it is an important step in recognizing that unshoveled sidewalks are a *health and safety* concern that do not require posting of property before the city addresses the issue. As one constituent put it to me, if the city is going to fine property owners for making an error and putting trash out early, that property owner has no problem with fining property owners for unsafe sidewalks.

At the committee meeting on Tuesday and outside of the committee meeting, we have discussed the issue of plowed snow blocking driveways and sidewalks after they have been shoveled. They are working on a plan to mitigate these issues and they will certainly address them when they are alerted about them. In the meantime, there are also outside groups that have helped in the past, and that I'm sure will help again -- this includes churches and student groups. For instance, last year, Christ's Church Albany and pastor Jonathan Hentrich addressed specific crosswalks that I asked them to address because the city didn't have the available resources immediately to address and a constituent had contacted me saying they needed to be able to walk a few blocks and couldn't climb over the snow piles at the crosswalks.

We are elderly & pay someone to shovel .
He can't always get to us in a timely fashion.
We are on a fixed income & this change would impact us negatively!
Leah should think about this before she proposes more laws impacting home , businesses & car owners.
Ms Golby's road calming construction has cost my neighborhood , sleep,and parking since April!
I have lived here all my life , and i see maybe one bike every two weeks. I will be hearing cars honking, smelling exhaust, and hearing radios blaring when the road is finished. It will take away some parking spots & this tax payer money should have gone into improving the aging water & sewer drains! We have had THREE water main & one sewer main break. That cost me most of my savings.
Maybe that 's why Leah lost her council seat?

Another fee/cash grab because a few people with pet peeves have to deal with a minor and brief annoyance. No concern for senior citizens or working class. No consideration that people may travel. Just add little nanny state laws so that a noisy few with narrow and self serving intents will be placated. Looking forward to the change in the 10th ward.

The working class can't shovel their driveways?

You have to pay your taxes and you have to shovel your sidewalks. Life sucks doesn't it?

To MG.

I live in Leah's neighborhood and the road diet is welcome change. I am grateful for it each time I cross the street with my five year old's hand in mine. What parking is being lost? You do realize the bulk of the construction between Ontario and Delaware to date has been National Grid. The road won't change, it's paint. People will still drive down it, still blast stereos, still stop at lights. If anything there will be fewer crashes and cars will 4 feet further away from the sidewalk. Do you hate the road diet? Leah's opponent told you he hated it. Did you love it? Leah's opponent told you he loved it. In fact, it's tough to tell what Mr, Anane stands for. He certainty tell anyone. He's due credit for a lot of tenacity, but now he has to step up and be a leader. Hold him to that.

You must also realize that the Madison Ave. reconstruction project was federally funded, right? That federal transportation dollars cannot be spent on sewer and stormwater, right? That sewer and stormwater projects are paid for from your water and sewer bill?

I love on Quail and Myrtle. Please post your address. If we get snow I'll make it a point to come help clear it when I can. I do that for my neighbors, because that's what neighbors do. My neighbors have also done it for me. That's why we chose to live here.

Denny, government is nice enough to give me 3.5 months to work out taxes. I don't have to clear up driveway if my schedule doesn't require that - e.g. on weekend. Even death can wait for another decade or two (3 or 4 if I am lucky).
But sidewalk must be done in 24 hours no matter what. Oh, and LIABILITY!
That is actually why I will never sign an easement for sidewalk.

Unshoveled sidewalks are not "a minor and brief annoyance" if you fall and break a leg or are afraid to take a step because of ice. I'm surprised people aren't breaking limbs constantly here in the winter. The sidewalk upkeep, especially snow removal, is horrible in Albany. (I've lived other places.) Some of us do walk, even senior citizens and working class people. Don't people in those groups want clear sidewalks too?

I agree that a more streamlined approach for DGS makes sense as well as safer sidewalks for our residents. I do believe that elderly or disabled people should have support without mounting fines. Similarly maybe the city could have a volunteer shovel program to assist these folks or lend support to homeowners who don’t the resources.


I applaud the city council and council member Golby for addressing this important issue. I live in Center Square, and unshoveled sidewalks are a big problem in the winter, especially on Lark Street. I'm especially glad to see the rules about shoveling more than a towpath (sometimes its just boot prints). I don't understand why the opposition to this common sense ordinance is about seniors who aren't able to shovel. I'm more concerned about the seniors, the disabled, and others who aren't able to use the sidewalks in the winter. On my block, we clear sidewalks for neighbors who are unable to do so themselves, because as daleyplanit said, that's what neighbors do.

I applaud Leah's ordinance changes. As so many above have most eloquently written - Dalyplanit, Peter, Karen Strong - this ordinance will help people and improve our quality of life in our fair city.

I am a very able-bodied person who fell a few years ago on South Lake, on an icy, not properly cleared sidewalk. That I did not break a limb was a miracle. My glasses got bent and I nearly lost a front tooth.

Last winter the sidewalks on Lark Street on the East side were impassable. I posted on See Click Fix and nothing happened. I re-posted, and again, the landlord just ignored whatever warnings he was sent. I complained at storefronts that were not shoveled. And, they got shoveled right away.

I don't see why this has to happen, folks. What is the big deal? When you own a property, or you are a tenant and it is part of your lease, you have obligations to your community. You put your garbage out in proper containers on certain days and take them back in by a certain time. You rake away the leaves; you shovel the snow. You do this so the sidewalk is usable by all - your kids, your parents, the neighbors, the elderly, those in strollers, wheelchairs, crutches, etc.

When did being a mensch/good person go out of fashion? If you can't handle your responsibilities, look for and ask for help.


Harriet - being a good person and elimination of grace period relate pretty much the same way as soliciting for donations and pointing a loaded gun...

Your complaint is that you are at the mercy of the person you hired to shovel your walkway? Hire someone else!
Clear your goddamn sidewalks! Have respect for others!

Well now that this has been implemented, it's moot, but I'm very surprised by the backlash to enforcing the city's code. Because that's all this is, it eliminates a practice that hasn't worked, i.e. giving people an extra 24hrs, for a total of 48hrs to clear snow in favor of enforcing what's in the code, which is a 24hr window.

I couldn't agree with Harriet (and others) more. This is a responsibility when you own/manage property in an area where it snows, just like cutting the grass, etc. It's a sad commentary when people are trying to get out of basic responsibilities and hiding behind arguments about seniors and the disabled. If you're worried about elderly people being able to meet this, then shovel for them, don't hide behind them.

Watch your swearing & have respect for seniors , RON!
If we could find some one ELSE to shovel , WE WOULD!!!
I have lived here SEVENTY YEARS!
Have seen lots of changes.
This nice family neighborhood changed to college students apartments, more bars, liquor stores, and craft beer start ups.
I'll bet this has created more alcoholics !

I know it is national grid doing the work right now.
I know that is Fed funded & also that Fed funds could be used for new water & sewer mains. I have heard Washington & N.Y. state talk about this.
At the meetings about road calming it said it would take away some parking spots.

I'm a senior and I am delighted this ordinance passed. I'm hoping it will be easier for me to walk around my neighborhood this winter. The problem I see is that when a property owner does not clear the snow within 24 hr. (or at all) is that pedestrians are forced to trudge through the snow leaving boot holes and creating an uneven, rutted surface, then it ices over and becomes treacherous and it can stay like that all winter. Not " a minor and brief annoyance." For many people it becomes impossible to walk safely or at all on these sidewalks. I wonder if the people so upset about this stricter deadline about clearing the sidewalks actually walk anywhere. If you get in your car and drive everywhere, maybe you've never experienced this health and safety problem.

It hardly seems like folks are hiding behind seniors when you have a senior who is trying to participate in the conversation and make these points but is being largely dismissed.

The removal of the window is not going to do anything but hurt the folks who can least afford it. Conscientious folks are going to clear their walkways as soon as they can and get hit with fines if they're not fast enough, the folks who do not care are going to continue to ignore it.

Everyone's circumstances are different. Just because you personally can get out to shovel as soon as it snows doesn't mean that everyone else can or can find or afford to have someone do the work for them. It's great that so many of you are a good neighbors who also shovel out your senior and disabled neighbors, but not everyone is so fortunate to live near people like you.

Honestly, it strikes me as a cash grab by the City. A well-meaning one, perhaps, but in the end just another opportunity to nickel and dime the folks who live here and are trying their best to be responsible citizens.

re: idea that it's a cash grab. I'd be all for dedicating any and all fines from this ordinance to DGS for staffing up to help deal with this problem.

There's a lot of sympathy here for seniors, people with a mobility impairment that cannot shovel the sidewalk. I feel that.

However.

That sympathy should consider that the law is a public health law. Consider the difference between a $100 fine, on a property owner that has the personal accountability and knowledge to do something

vs.

Someone, a senior or a person with a mobility impairment - who are at the most risk, falling and severely injuring themselves on a slippery, unshoveled sidewalk.

So many people gripe about accountability, and personal responsibility, and then it comes time to reinforce that and no one wants to accept responsibility for anything.

Speaking from personal experience as someone who walks almost everywhere in all seasons, the majority of properties with unshoveled sidewalks are NOT seniors.

Many properties with uncleared snow are either rentals which are either owned by LLCs, absentee landlords (some of whome live locally, some are out-of-town residents), bank-owned foreclosures, and other vacant properties.

I've witnessed entire blocks unshoveled well beyond the grace period where I know that not even one property is occupied by a senior or disabled individual who is unable to clear the snow or arrange for someone to clear it for them.

And, unfortunately, in many cases, citatations and fines don't really accopmplish much. I've seen properties with reams of citatations posted and the sidewalk remains a mess. Some owners just ignore the notices and let the fines accumulate.

As daleyplanit pointed out, seniors are among those at risk from uncleared sidewalks. I've seen too many old people forced to walk in the street with traffic or fall on uncleared sidewalks (and crosswalks) long after the snow should have been removed.

chrisck - idea of city taking over sidewalks cleaning is not new..
Problems: cost and liability. I heard that Rochester assumes sidewalks in case of 5"+ snowfall, but I believe that is the highest involvement among all places.
CLearing sidewalks is really difficult in terms of using heavy equipment - unlike vehicle lanes, you cannot just put a 20-40MPH plow on a sidewalk and hope everyone can jump out of the way. You need 2-3MPH machine - and that would mean a long (read - expansive) process. Besides, there is no emergency vehicle access motivation for sidewalks.
And liability, if someone slips on leftover snow... Cities cannot afford that (residents? that is an interesting question)

On the other hand, sidewalk cleaning by property owners worked very well for big families and few people commuting further from home or traveling out of city.

I would say some other approach is needed (if safe environment is indeed the goal here. Collecting cash may be a higher priority for city, though). Less punitive, more oriented towards safe streets. Some for-profit cleaning - city-sponsored, or otherwise - billing owners on per-foot basis, without fines or prejudice? Residents of general area encouraged to shovel snow along streets - as they are the most interested party?
I don't know, really. Stronger enforcement is rarely a solution..

I used to shovel myself, until i slipped & fell under a car!
First i used a cane , now i use a walker.
Maybe i could put a snow blower on my walker, just kidding!
We have always managed to get it cleared within the time frame , after it stopped snowing.
Yes, it does seem like a cash grab!
I know that the Albany's Times Union has more obits in the winter time & think that to avoid paying LARGE fines seniors who own property would end up on those pages caused from heart attacks , while shoveling!!!

"As daleyplanit pointed out, seniors are among those at risk from uncleared sidewalks. I've seen too many old people forced to walk in the street with traffic or fall on uncleared sidewalks (and crosswalks) long after the snow should have been removed."

Problem here is, I CLEAN MY SIDEWALK, from house to curb and DGS plows even more snow ( this time packed and heavy ) onto the sidewalk from curb to house.

How many times do you expect me to re-do the same work? FWIW, as soon as I'm done, I'm taking pictures to document, then not doing another damned thing.

Fine me, and we're going to be showing the judge the BEFORE ( when I cleared it ) and after, ( when DGS covers my sidewalk with snow )

This is ridiculous -- all of the conversation, regulation and arguing that has to go into a seemingly simple, common-sense act. Just shovel your snow, or find someone to help shovel it for you.

And Mike, your house is less than10-feet from the edge of the street and all you have for a front yard is sidewalk. What were you expecting was going to happen in the winter when you moved here? C'mon man!...

an interesting idea for some data analysis: what is the percentage of those who think this is "common sense act" among those who actually have full responsibility for a stretch of sidewalk - and those those who don't have to worry about that?..

@mike

Common sense act believer here. I have a sidewalk in front of my house that I maintain. We also walk a lot in our neighborhood, an chose it SPECIFICALLY for walkability and proximity to places we want to shop, eat, and recreate. We bought our home knowing that sidewalk were the responsibility of the property owners.

For those who are worried that 24 hours is not enough time to shovel your sidewalk and think it is OK to let your neighbors walk through your snow and climb over snowbanks on the corner...

This is only enforced on complaint and after the complaint OGS has to actually make it out there. So you have plenty of time.

I am glad this reduces the number of trips OGS has to make - perhaps this will make them more responsive. I have reported 10 or more unshoved sidewalks on many occasions with no follow up at all in 2 weeks. I get the same lack of followup on unmowed lawns and trash that has been there for months.

BTW the cleanest and first shoveled sidewalk on State btw Quail and Ontario belongs to an 80 something year old widow.

Also Mike, shoveling once is adhering to the letter and not the spirit. Having a clear sidewalk isn't to adhere to regulations, it is to be a good neighbor. My husband walks our toddler to school every day - either on fit, by bike, or in a stroller. Your icy, snow covered sidewalk patch is a hazard for my kid, or your neighbor in a wheel chair. In big storms, we shovel multiple times or make a deal with our tenant to help out. It's part of living here. I report my neighbor who has a huge patch of sidewalk he doesn't shovel and lets go icy consistently - (especially after my kid faceplants on his ice) with no OGS response. I'd just love to see them follow through.

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