Condo associations have a number of duties to those who live near or on the properties it maintains. From ensuring that buildings are cared for in an adequate manner to guaranteeing that any unreasonable hazards on grounds have been removed, when condo associations breach the duty they owe, they could be held liable should harm to others occur. This legal theory has, for the most part, encouraged condo associations to assume responsibility for maintaining properties. But should this always be the case? How should condo associations deal with sidewalks, which are often public, not private, property?
Snow and Ice Removal from Sidewalks
When snow or ice accumulate on sidewalks, most property owners throughout the state of Massachusetts are required to remove or treat the snow and ice in a reasonable amount of time to protect against injuries. To be sure, in Revere for example, municipal code states that the tenant, occupant, or the owner or agent of any building or piece of land must remove snow and ice within 24 hours of its falling.
For condo associations, this law means having a policy in place that is understood by the association and residents alike regarding responsibilities for snow removal. Some condo association boards choose to handle snow and ice removal efforts on residents’ behalf, whereas others place this duty on the shoulders of residents themselves. Keep in mind that even if a condo association adopts regulations that state that individual condo owners or tenants must remove snow directly in front of their own properties, the condo association will likely remain responsible for any common areas, and as such, have a detailed policy in place is essential.
Maintaining Sidewalks Otherwise
While municipal codes may require snow and ice removal, and therefore condo associations will likely comply as a way to keep everyone safe and avoid liability, there is more grey area for things like sidewalk repairs. For example, if a sidewalk is damaged and creates a tripping hazard, who is responsible for fixing it?
In a recent case heard by a Massachusetts Appeals Court, this exact question was answered. In the case, a commercial business (not a condo association) hired a contractor to repair a broken sidewalk after a pedestrian tripped and fell. However, the sidewalk wasn’t owned by the business–it was owned by the city–and therefore, the business was not responsible for its maintenance (outside of snow and ice removal). When the victim of the fall filed a lawsuit against the business, claiming that the business owner had assumed the responsibility of maintenance of the sidewalk by fixing it, and was thereby liable for injuries, the court rejected the argument. While the business escaped without being held liable–a win for private property owners in the state–the case should serve as a warning: if it’s not your responsibility, don’t assume responsibility.
The same should be said for condo associations; if there are hazardous conditions on condo association property, the condo association should repair them when, and only when, they have a legal duty to do so. Otherwise, they could risk incurring liability, even when acting with good intent. It is important to talk with an attorney regarding what types of property, such as a sidewalk, a condo association is and is not responsible to maintain.
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With over 30 years’ experience, Deborah Gold-Alexander Attorney at Law is skilled at assisting condo associations in understanding their legal rights and liabilities. For a consultation with Deborah Gold-Alexander today, contact our law office by phone or online now.