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Winter service: Who has to clear snow when and how often?

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Besides the fun of building a snowman or going sledding, snow also raises a lot of issues for tenants. How many times a day do I have to shovel snow? Do I have to completely clear the sidewalk or is it enough to clear a strip? And who is liable in the event of an accident on the icy sidewalk? Read our blog to find out more about your rights and obligations regarding winter service.

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    Leo Loosli

    Leo Loosli is a legal expert and works at AXA-ARAG in Market Management and as an expert in the areas of contract, inheritance, family, and personal law.

Winter service is not regulated in my rental agreement. Is my landlord responsible for clearing snow?

Correct: In your case, the owner or landlord is responsible for clearing snow. Because if nothing else is defined in the rental agreement, then the property owner is responsible by law for clearing the snow. The situation is different for the rental of a single-family home. Here, the tenant is responsible for clearing snow, even without any corresponding agreement.

The walking path directly in front of the house also falls within the area of responsibility of your landlord – or the mandated janitor. If someone slips here and is injured, the property owner is liable – because they are responsible for safety. This is even the case if the snow clearing has been delegated to another person or company.

I am a tenant in a multi-family building – often no one feels responsible for winter service. Who should do the shoveling and when?

If you, as a tenant, are responsible for clearing snow according to the rental agreement, then you must independently make arrangements with the other tenants and share responsibility for the winter service. 

If no agreement can be reached, then you should contact the landlord.

Do I have to buy a snow shovel myself if I am responsible for clearing snow?

Normally, your landlord must provide all the equipment required for clearing snow in the winter: from shovels and brooms to grit. However, the rental agreement or house rules can stipulate other regulations.

Where do I as the tenant have to clear snow or spread winter salt?

You alone are responsible for clearing snow in the following areas – regardless of the rules set out in your rental agreement:

  • On your own balcony
  • On your own terrace
  • On your own parking space

In other words: You are responsible for maintaining the spaces and paths to which you have sole access. This is also referred to as “minor maintenance.” In winter, your janitor is responsible for clearing snow from the garage entrance and outdoor parking spaces and making sure they are accessible.

It’s important to note that if you are renting a single-family home, you are responsible for clearing snow.

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Is my landlord allowed to check whether I have cleared snow or complain about the “quality” of the work.

If your landlord delegates the clearing work to you, then they have an interest in making sure it is carried out correctly. Because they bear the consequences of a claim.  

The sidewalk in front of our multi-family building is very wide. Do I have to clear the entire sidewalk?

As a rule of thumb, you have to clear enough space so that two people can easily pass each other. This means a width of about 80 centimeters.

It is enough to put up a warning sign that indicates the surface is icy?

Warning signs or blockages are possible measures after heavy snowfall or in icy conditions. However, they do not exempt you from liability if someone has an accident.

Until what point do I have to clear snow?

Snow on their property is not the only issue for property owners. The obligation to clear snow also extends to any sidewalks located in front of the property. 

Do I have to clear snow around the clock?

The general obligation to clear snow lasts from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. In other words, when most pedestrians are on the go.

Clearing snow in winter – the key facts at a glance

  • Clearing snow from the property and on adjacent sidewalks is part of the statutory obligations of homeowners.
  • The municipalities govern in detail where, when, and how the paths should be cleared in snowy and icy conditions, and what must be done if you are sick or away on vacation.
  • Property owners can assign their clearing obligation to their tenants – through a clause in the rental agreement or in the house rules.
  • In addition to the obligation to clear snow, passersby must be protected against snow and icicles falling from the roof.

Who is liable if snow slides off the roof and injures a passerby?

The following general rule applies: The owner must maintain the building in such a way that there is no danger for people behaving normally. If someone slips because snow was not sufficiently cleared in front of the house – for example, on an icy sidewalk – then the owner can be held liable. The same applies to masses of snow that slide off the roof and injure passersby.

As a tenant, where can I/do I have to put the cleared snow?

It is important to choose a suitable place for the cleared snow. Ideally, this should be on your property. The mass of snow should not be shoveled from private property onto a public street or sidewalk. And your neighbors are not likely to be pleased if they suddenly have to deal with the snow from the adjacent property too.

I live in the city. Can I spread winter salt?

In general, the use of winter salt is allowed, but you should not use it near trees or bushes. However, if it is a dangerous place, for example a steep path, then it is recommended to use winter salt there too, since the safety of people always comes first. Besides winter salt, there are other alternatives, such as grit, sand, or wood chips.

My neighbor uses a snowplow when it snows heavily. Often even before 7 in the morning. Is that legal?

Even in the case of heavy snowfall, your neighbor must observe the quiet hours stipulated in the police regulations. These may vary from municipality to municipality. However, in individual cases the use of a snowplow may be advisable before 7 a.m. In this case, the safety aspect is given greater priority over any noise disturbance. Nevertheless, even in cases of heavy snowfall, a snowplow does not have to be tolerated in the middle of the night.

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I park my car outdoors. Do I have to scrape the ice off all the windows every morning in the winter?

The driver has to have a 180-degree view ahead. In short: The front windshield and the front side windows have to be completely free of ice. However, we recommend deicing all windows for road safety reasons.

You can find more information about this topic in our "Peephole" blog article.

We live in the Zurich Oberland and when it snows, I'm often late for work in the morning. Do I have to make up the missed working time?

Yes, you have to make up for the missed work time. Employers only have to continue paying the salary in cases of incapacity to work through no fault of the employee if the reasons for this concern the employee personally. Examples include if the employee is ill, has had an accident, or is fulfilling legal obligations. 

If you are late due to snow, a canceled train or a similar reason, you must bear the risk and make up the time. If snow is forecast, you should therefore plan delays into your journey and set off earlier to get to work on time.

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