Are Homeowners Liable for Dangerous Sidewalks?
GENERALLY, PROPERTY OWNERS HAVE NO DUTY TO MAINTAIN OR REPAIR PUBLIC SIDEWALKS
California law generally does not hold property owners liable for the failure to repair, maintain, or clean public sidewalks adjacent to their homes or business properties. This liability may be created by statute, but in the absence of a specific law requiring such maintenance, the obligation to clean and maintain public sidewalks lies with the municipality to whom the sidewalk itself belongs.
California Streets and Highways Code § 5600 (and the sections that follow) obligates cities to maintain and repair their public sidewalks. In certain circumstances, cities may request (or order) landowners maintain or repair property, or pay for certain types of maintenance and repair (particularly when the homeowner or business owner caused damage to the sidewalk). The circumstances under which the city may make these demands varies, so homeowners should consult a lawyer or locally applicable statutes to determine when and if cities may impose such a duty in their area. However, the statute does not create a duty for private landowners to maintain or repair sidewalks generally.
POTENTIAL LIABILITY MAY ARISE FROM VOLUNTARY MAINTENANCE AND REPAIR
Some California case law suggests that land owners may be held liable for injuries on adjacent public sidewalks where the land owner voluntarily assumed maintenance and repair of the sidewalk (without a statutory requirement to do so). Where the land owner maintains the property over time, thereby creating a history of voluntary maintenance and repair, courts have held the land owner liable for injuries resulting from a subsequent failure to maintain. This is a tricky situation, however, and courts have also criticized this practice, so the status of a land owner who voluntarily maintains or repairs an adjacent public sidewalk is not uniformly reflected in the law or its application.
Property owners should consult an attorney about the legal status of voluntarily assuming maintenance responsibility for public sidewalks–preferably before undertaking such activities.
POSSESSION AND CONTROL OF ADJACENT SIDEWALKS MAY ALSO CREATE LIABILITY
Where a land owner assumes possession or control over adjacent public sidewalks, the land owner also assumes a duty to warn passersby of dangers existing on or around the sidewalk, and to mitigate or repair dangerous conditions. By taking control of the sidewalk, the property owner assumes the duties inherent in possession or control of property, despite the lack of ownership of the sidewalk or the land on which it lies.
In this, as in other areas relating to property ownership and injuries, it’s important to remember that the duty to mitigate damage, to warn of hazardous conditions, and to maintain property in reasonably safe condition generally applies not only to owners of land, but to the people who control the land as well.
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice to any person or entity, and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any person or entity. Landlord-tenant law, including premises liability, is a complex legal topic, and no single article can provide complete or comprehensive coverage or information about this or any other legal topic or issue. Your personal liability may differ, based on your individual facts and circumstances. If you believe you have a legal claim or issue, or wish to know more about your individual rights, consult an experienced attorney without delay.