City of Vancouver taking property owners to court for not keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice

Many sidewalks around the city are covered in ice, making walking very difficult for pedestrians | Photo Dan Toulgoet

The city has issued more than 1,700 warning notices and is taking court action against 36 property owners who have not cleared their properties of snow and ice.

The city announced January 3 that it will begin issuing tickets, which begin at $250 each, to property owners who fail to keep sidewalks clear. Commercial property owners, which have been the most defiant, will be the primary target.

“I just want to emphasize we try not to go right to enforcement,” said Jerry Dobrovolny, the city’s general manager of engineering, as he explained the city’s so-called “snow fight” plan. “We try to emphasize that we want to encourage people to clear their walk, give them notices to do that, give them warnings and largely that’s the case.”

At a news conference Tuesday near the heavily-salted back steps of city hall, Dobrovolny acknowledged the city -- which has already spent $2.5 million on snow removal -- still had some work to do in clearing its own properties of snow and ice.

“The rules apply to the city as well as to the public and to businesses,” he said. “We are working hard with our partners both at the school board, at parks board and our civic properties to clear all the sites. We will clear all of our sites.”

All property owners and landlords are responsible for clearing snow and ice from sidewalks that surround their property by 10 a.m. the morning after a snowfall.

In a prolonged period of snow and freezing temperatures, which has occurred this winter, the city will issue first and second notifications to those who don’t clear their sidewalks. The next step could be prosecution or have the city clear the sidewalk and charge the property owner for the work.

To date, the city has received more than 1,800 complaints related to snow and ice through its 311 phone line and the VanConnect smart phone app. Staff has cleared more than 1,300 of the complaints.

“Typically, we don’t go in and clear the neighbourhood residential streets because there’s so many more of them [than main roads],” Dobrovolny said.  “And, typically, the weather breaks.”

With the cold spell continuing this week and snow in the forecast, the city has redeployed more than 260 workers from areas such as construction to assist other crews with snow removal.

Some of those crews will be salting, sanding and plowing alleys to ensure recycling and garbage trucks can access recycling bins and garbage cans. Some homeowners have been without recycling or garbage pick-up for several weeks.

Dobrovolny said the city has anywhere from 14 to 44 trucks and plows dedicated to snow removal. Crews have worked around the clock to keep the main roads clear, he said.

That effort has seen the city use more than 7,000 tonnes of salt, about seven times what was used in recent years. Dobrovolny said the city is well stocked with salt and will provide the ice-melting mineral to residents, if they can’t find any in stores.

Starting Wednesday, free salt will be available at 10 firehalls around the city. A maximum of two buckets is allowed, with the city encouraging donations to local charities. Residents should bring their own buckets and shovels. The halls’ locations can be viewed on the city’s website.

All that snow and ice has meant more work for the city’s volunteer corps and its “snow angel” program, which has received 320 requests from people who are unable to clear their sidewalks.

“This winter is not typical,” said Dobrovolny, noting Vancouver went 1,000 days without snow before the white stuff came down this winter.

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