What's the proper technique for shoveling snow? A physical therapist offers specific tips for protecting your back while you dig out this winter. (Video: Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

This post has been updated.

Accumulated snow is a good way to separate the good neighbors from the bad ones. The good ones shovel the snow on sidewalks in front of their homes and businesses. The bad ones don’t, letting the piles melt into murky slush for their neighbors’ feet to fall victim to.

Luckily for upstanding residents, the law is typically behind them. Jurisdictions throughout the region have laws to ensure that even those stickily scofflaws are compelled to shovel their snow — or pay the price.

A day after the last snowflakes fell in the District, progress on clearing sidewalks was uneven, despite a law that requires residents and business owners to clear the walks in front of their properties eight hours after the storm. Enforcement has been suspended because of the severity of the storm, but normally violators face a $25 fine plus whatever it costs for the city to clear the sidewalk. Many pedestrians were still traversing the city in the middle of the street rather than trudging down sidewalks, where snow was piled up waist-high in some places.

On the sidewalks of H Street, dozens who navigated the maze of pathways carved out of feet of snow, some of which quickly dead-ended in front of businesses that had yet to dig out. In Ledroit Park, neighbors bonded over the shared misery of snow shoveling. On 14th Street NW, a popular business district whose sidewalks are often busy with pedestrians on weekends, some employees got to work early Sunday to clear the sidewalks as a way to advertise that they were open.

Ashley Bethel, a manager at Busboys and Poets, got to work with with a busser to shovel the long, wrap-around sidewalk in front of that restaurant and the establishment’s sister restaurant, Eatonville. It took the two of them more than two hours to clear the walk and midway through, a kind D.C. Department of Transportation worker took pity on them and gave Bethel a bigger shovel.

For Bethel, shoveling snow makes business sense: it’s how the restaurant signaled that they were open and serving brunch to hungry passers-by. But it’s also part of the establishment’s civic duty. she said.

“Busboys is really about being a member of the community,” Bethel said, who was walked to work from her Columbia Heights home in the middle of the street because of snow-clogged sidewalks. “It’s part of being neighborly to do your part.”

Steve Garrisi, manager of Tortilla Coast on 15th Street NW, tackled the snow this morning with another employee, clearing a path on the sidewalks of the corner restaurant. But many businesses remained closed and the snow remained piled high at their storefronts. Garrisi, who spent the weekend managing a restaurant at a nearby hotel, where he stayed, suspects that many employees and business owners have been simply unable to get to work. He said about half of sidewalks were cleared.

“The people who still aren’t open haven’t gotten their sidewalks shoveled and cleared,” Garrisi said. 

Luther Place Memorial Church near Logan Circle occupies a triangular-shaped block, but thanks to a congregant who lives nearby and a church employee who slept in the building, the sidewalks were clear. Senior Pastor Karen Brau said the two men shoveled a half-dozen times Saturday to keep up with the snowfall, clearing sidewalks around the church and even making a path from the parsonage, where Brau lives, to the church building.

“I think we have the cleanest sidewalks in the city,” Brau said.

Sunday morning, Brau said she held what she called “snow church,” a small, intimate service for the approximately 30 people who made it.

“We prayed for all the people who are working so hard on snow removal,” Brau said. 

Here’s a look at the laws in the region, and how long you have to shovel your snow in the sidewalks in front of your property. And remember, assist those neighbors who are not able to clear their sidewalks and driveways. If you live in D.C., you can sign up to be a member of the city’s D.C. Resident Snow Team and be dispatched to h


District law requires all property owners to shovel the snow on the sidewalks in front of their property within the first eight daylight hours that the snow stops falling. Handicap ramps on properties must also be cleared. If you are a renter, don’t assume your landlord will handle it. Look in your lease to determine who is responsible.

If you fail to do this, you will be slapped with a $25 fine in addition to the amount it costs the city to clear the sidewalk.

(UPDATE: Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday the city would not cite people for not shoveling their sidewalks this storm.)

Montgomery County (not municipalities)

Property owners are responsible for clearing their public sidewalks, driveways and entrances within 24 hours of the end of a snowstorm. This same time period applies to Barnesville, Poolesville, Chevy Chase and the Village of Chevy Chase. Call 311 or 240-777-0311 to report an unshoveled sidewalk.

Prince George’s County

Residents have 48 hours to shovel the snow from the sidewalks abutting their properties. Failure to do so will result in a $100 fine.

Arlington County 

Snow must be removed within 24 hours after the snow stops falling if less than six inches has accumulated. If six or more inches accumulate, residents have 36 hours to remove the snow. Failure to do so could result in a $100 fine. If the county has to clear the snow, it can charge the cost of clearing it to the property owner.


Depending on the level of the storm, residents will have anywhere between 36 and 72 hours to clear the sidewalks abutting their property. Failure to do so can result in a $50 fine, plus the amount it costs the government to clear the snow. Check the city’s website to see what level it is categorizing the storm.

Loudoun County 

Property owners have six hours after the snow stops falling to clear their sidewalks. If the snow falls overnight, people have until noon the next day to clear it. Failure to comply can result in a fine up to $250.


You are not legally obligated to clear your sidewalks, though the government will not do it for you.

Takoma Park 

Snow and ice must be removed from sidewalks by 7 p.m. of the day on which it has fallen or accumulated, or by the end of four hours of daylight after the fall or accumulation, whichever is later. If the snow has stopped, sidewalks in front of commercial establishments must be free of snow between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.


In Rockville, snow removal from sidewalks, driveways and entrances is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, occupant, community association or business. Snow and ice must be cleared from all paved sidewalks abutting your property within 24 to 72 hours of the end of the snowfall, depending on the snowfall totals (up to three inches =  within 24 hours; three to nine inches = 48 hours; 10 inches or more = 72 hours). City crews coordinate road clearing and sidewalk work depending on the severity of the storm. Accessible curb ramps, sidewalks and pathways that abut publicly owned property are cleared by crews from city departments.


Residents and business owners are required to remove snow and ice from the public sidewalks adjacent to their property within 12 hours after the snow stops falling.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the number of hours Arlington residents to clear the snow from their sidewalks. 

Staff writer Lynh Bui contributed.