If your neighbor didn't bother to shovel the snow and ice from his sidewalk over the weekend, leaving a nasty hazard for passersby, in most local jurisdictions you can have the satisfaction of telling him he violated a law -- but don't expect officials to crack down on him.
The D.C. government has had a law on the books since 1922 requiring residential and commercial property owners to clear snow and ice from their public walkways within the first eight hours of daylight following a snowfall, but there's no penalty for failing to obey the law.
D.C. City Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), the council chairman-elect, sought to add a $300 penalty two years ago, but his amendment has been bottled up in the Transportation and Environmental Affairs Committee. The committee chairman, council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large) thinks the penalty would be unfair to the elderly and poor.
The city does have the power to clear a snow-covered sidewalk and sue the owner to recover its costs, but that power is rarely invoked.
Surrounding jurisdictions are only slightly more stringent in their treatment of property owners who don't clear their sidewalks and walkways.
In Montgomery County, owners of commercial property and apartment buildings are subject to a $50 fine if they don't clear ice and snow from abutting sidewalks within 24 hours of a snowfall. However, owners of single-family homes aren't subject to the law, according to an assistant county attorney.
Homeowners living in Rockville are required by city law to keep their sidewalks free of snow and ice but there is no penalty for violations. If the city has to clear the walk, it can recover its costs by placing a lien on the property.
Prince George's County imposes a $50 fine on property owners who don't shovel their walks within 48 hours after a snowfall.
Arlington County has no law regarding sidewalk snow removal. But the Alexandria City Council is expected to adopt a bill tonight making it a misdemeanor for a property owner to fail to shovel his sidewalk within eight hours of a snowfall.
Christopher P. Schewe, an Alexandria assistant city attorney who drafted the proposed legislation, said yesterday he is convinced the measure is long overdue: He slipped on an icy sidewalk on his way to work.