A shoveled sidewalk isn’t some luxury nice-to-have — here in Seattle, it’s a requirement. But that’s apparently news to some corporate landlords, who are apparently too busy slapping a tenth coat of paint over light switches to pick up a shovel when it snows.
By law in Seattle, property owners must keep sidewalks clear, whether from vegetation or snow. An un-shoveled path is more than just inconvenient; it can be deadly if someone slips, particularly if that person’s elderly. Slippery sidewalks can prevent people with mobility needs from leaving the house — sometimes for days at a time.
But incentives for landlords to get out and do their duty are slim. Failing to clear snow within 12 hours can result in a tiny little fine of $50 for private homeowners, and just $250 for mega-high-rises. No wonder, when we put out a call for reports of corporate landlords failing to shovel, we got so many responses from frustrated residents who can’t leave their homes.
And one message defending the landlords.
“How about instead of being the Karen of cancel culture you see if any of those land owners you are trying to shame may have good cause for why they aren’t shoveling?” wrote one person on Instagram.
Yeah! And that goes for any other maintenance issues, too. Sure, the heat’s been out since the middle of October, but have you ever considered how the landlord feels about it? The windows are broken, someone fell through the staircase, and a pack of wild dogs has taken up residence in the elevator, but has anyone bothered to ask the landlord if maybe those are all GOOD things? Can you believe that pushy tenants want a place to live but they ALSO want to be able to LEAVE that place? Well, which is it? Make up your mind! Wanting to leave your apartment without breaking your leg is cancel culture gone mad!
Actually, this person does have a good point, aside from the one on top of the cap they’re wearing, which is that not every property owner is able to shovel. But that’s fine! Having the ability to shovel a sidewalk isn’t a condition of owning property.
Fortunately, nobody said that it is. Just that IF you own a building, there’s a bare minimum of upkeep required. If you can’t shovel, cool, find someone who can. We knew a week in advance that snow was coming.
It would be nice if we could rely on the city to shovel sidewalk, but local government has its hands full already with even a light accumulation of snow. King Country Metro is limited to emergency service today, which means they’re only running 60 core routes. (Get the full breakdown here.) Sound Transit’s twitter feed is one long list of canceled routes. The city’s plowing a limited number of streets, trash collection is canceled, and though there are now a couple dozen warming centers open around the city, most libraries are closed, honey. (Power outages have been thankfully brief and isolated.)
Meanwhile, landlords all over the city are twiddling their thumbs and looking away from their sidewalks. Among the properties that remain unpassable, according to tipsters:
- Westview Apartment Homes on Beacon Hill
- Virtually all of the businesses on Ballard Ave
- Porter Apartments, managed by Cornell & Associates on Capitol Hill. (Word has it the property manager is stuck out of town. Okay, hire someone to take care of it for you!)
- Abie Label & Associates — tenants report having to buy their own ice melt.
One factor that may be contributing to the unshoveled sidewalks: Sea-Tac’s seen a slew of postponed and canceled flights (check Alaska Air updates here, though they’re clearly overwhelmed right now), so property owners might simply be stranded out of town. If you’re a frazzled homeowner stuck in Dubuque, sure, calling around to find a local shoveler might not be your top priority. I have less sympathy for the corporate landlords who can’t be bothered.
So, ultimately, is Seattle’s current sidewalk-clearing policy good? No, obviously not. It’s clearly not working. Something needs to change. Maybe higher fines; maybe more inspections; maybe more money for city-paid shovelers. Maybe it should be a law that the mayor has to personally shovel sidewalks when it snows. (That wouldn’t solve anything, it would just give me personal pleasure.) Maybe we need a reporting system beyond just “email the busybody alt-weekly reporter with nothing better to do than complain.”
The city’s Find It, Fix It app, by the way, does not have a category to report icy sidewalks.
And here's one more idea: Until we figure out a better way to handle snowy weather, hey landlords, you know what you could do if you don’t feel like shoveling? Hire one of your tenants to do it instead. Offer a $200 discount off of the rent to whoever clears the sidewalk. Problem solved, and you saved yourself at least some of the money that would have gone to fines.
If this guy could clear the sidewalk with a broom, millionaire landlords can get it done too.
With more snow on the way Wednesday night, you've got a chance to either redeem yourself, or dig in your heels.