Sidewalk Repair, Who is Responsible?
By John R. Schneider
Dec 28, 2002, 00:52
We just moved
into a new housing development and we are having problems with the contractor
fixing some large cracks in the driveway and sidewalk. The cracks were caused by trucks and heavy
equipment crossing our lot to finish up work on the house next door. The builder keeps saying that the city will
fix the sidewalk when the development is done at the end of the year. I called the city and they say that it is the
builder’s responsibility. Who is
responsible for repairing our driveway ?
I live in an older neighborhood, and for years the tree the
city planted in the sidewalk area has been causing the sidewalk to crack and
lift. It has gotten so bad, that last
week one of the neighbors tripped on the sidewalk and injured their hip. I called the city and they said that the
maintenance and repair of the sidewalk is the responsibility of the home owner. They stated that I needed to get a permit if
I take out a section of the sidewalk.
Isn’t the city was responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalks?
In order to understand who is responsible for the
maintenance and repair of the sidewalk, it helps to know that most people’s
property line stops somewhere on the house’s side of the sidewalk. In some municipalities, the property line
goes right up to the sidewalk, in others it can stop a few inches or feet
before the sidewalk begins. This raises
the question, “If a home owner’s property line stops short of the sidewalk, is
the property owner responsible for its maintenance and repair?”
The answer is yes.
Although a home owner does not actually “own” the sidewalk in front of
their property, they are still held responsible for maintaining the condition
of the sidewalk and the public right of way.
The reason is, the public right of way is not only for the convenience
of others, it also benefits the home owner by allowing safe access to their own
Whether this right of way may ends at the inside edge of a
sidewalk, is not always clear. In some
developments the right of way may end two feet beyond the inside edge of the
sidewalk. This portion of the right of way could be used for the installation
of underground utilities such as electrical, telephone and cable. A home owner
would not be able to build or erect any permanent structure, planter, or fence
that may affect passage in this area.
For many years, California
has required a 40 foot right of way for city streets and sidewalks. This is the minimum width of a residential
street and sidewalks to ensure that vehicular and pedestrian traffic have a
safe and un-encumbered space to travel on.
To enforce these requirements, the local government has the
authority to control how streets and sidewalks are installed, and how they are
to be maintained.
For example, before a new sub division can be built, the
builder must submit plans outlining how all of the streets and sidewalks will
be installed. These plans must meet the
strict guidelines of the local public works department, or city engineer.
Once approved, the builder is then responsible for
installing the streets and sidewalks for the development.
Usually a year after the development is completed, the
municipality will inspect the streets and sidewalks. If they find the streets and sidewalks in
acceptable condition, they will assume the control for their continued use and
maintenance. If sidewalks are badly
cracked or damaged, the local government will not accept control until corrections
are made. Builders are therefore
ultimately responsible to ensure that the sidewalks, driveways and streets are
in serviceable condition.
In existing neighborhoods, the city also maintains control
of the streets and sidewalks, and how they are repaired. If the city receives a complaint that a
sidewalk is cracking and lifting so as to create a tripping hazard, they will
notify the home owner and request that they fix the condition. For a crack to be considered a tripping
hazard, it would have to have a gap of about one half inch, or a lift of three
quarters of an inch. If the owner does
not fix the condition, the city can hire a sub contractor to make the repair,
and bill the home owner.
Many times in older neighborhoods, where the trees in the
parking strips have caused damage to several blocks of sidewalks, the city will
contract with a sub contractor to repair the entire area. When this is done, the billing for the home
owner often appears as a fee on the property taxes.
Repairing a sidewalk does not always require that the
sidewalk be replaced. If there is only
one or two large cracks or lifts in the sidewalk, they can usually be repaired
by the home owner with patching concrete, or mortar. Cracks more than one half inch should be filled
with mortar and leveled off. Raises or
lifting of the sidewalk more than one half inch high should be bridged with the
patching compound to create a smooth sloping surface.
Cracks or lifts larger than these may require that a section
of the sidewalk actually be replaced.
This will require a permit to ensure that the work will meet the
local guidelines. Before attempting to perform any major
repairs to a sidewalk or driveway, the public works department or city engineer
should be consulted. They can answer any
questions that you might have and will usually provide handouts and drawings
outlining their requirements. They will
also be able to tell you if there are any special programs through the city
that may share in the costs of repairing or replacing damaged sidewalks.
John R. Schneider is a
licensed general building contractor and a certified residential code
specialist. He is president of All About Homes, a residential inspection
company, and has been performing code and construction consultations since
1985. Readers may address their comments
to John Schneider, 24326 Mission
Blvd. Suite 7, Hayward, CA 94544, Fax number: 510 537-8666, or on the web at www.allabouthomes.com . Please include your phone number. Schneider will answer questions of general
interest in the paper. He reserves the right to edit the letter for brevity and
clarity. Readers are encouraged to contact a competent contractor or code consultant
for specific information regarding questions they may have about their homes.
Copyright 2002, John R.
Schneider, all rights reserved
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