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Exterior
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 home.

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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