Q: I live in a brownstone in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and one of my neighbors does a terrible job shoveling his sidewalk. He shovels a narrow path barely the width of the shovel and usually leaves behind a layer of snow that becomes slick and icy. His property is at the corner, and he rarely clears the curb cut, making it hard to cross the street. How do I tell him to shovel better?
A: Property owners are responsible for clearing snow and ice from in front of their buildings, creating a path that is at least four feet wide, according to the NYC Administrative Code. Those with corner lots must also clear a path to the crosswalk, including any pedestrian ramps. If the melted snow creates a puddle, the owner must disperse the water.
The city provides time to get the work done: four hours if the snow stops between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.; 14 hours if the storm ends between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.; and if it stops snowing between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., the area must be cleared by 11 a.m.
From what you describe, your neighbor is not clearing a wide enough path, nor is it free of ice. If he doesn’t do it by the deadline, you could call 311 and your neighbor could get a ticket, starting at $100 to $150 for the first offense, and up to $350 for additional violations. But before you go this route, try talking to him. You might be able to find a more amicable solution.
Shoveling snow is difficult work, and many people have obstacles that make it even harder. Someone who is older or has a disability may struggle to shovel. A commuter may not be able to get to the job until after the snow has hardened. Parents of young children may not have anyone to supervise their charges while they work outside.
Talk to your neighbor now, while you’re out shoveling. Explain that you are concerned about safety and want to find a way to ensure that the entire sidewalk is passable. “Your delivery should be positive,” said Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert. “It really is up to us to do the right thing and be proactive with the right attitude and help. How can I help you? How can we work this out?”
Perhaps you can work out an arrangement to share the workload, trading off shoveling shifts if it’s a heavy storm, like the one we just got. If he is unable to do the work, you and other neighbors could pitch in to help, as the goal is to get the sidewalk cleared for everyone. Or, suggest he hire someone to do the work for him. (If you know of an enterprising teenager in the neighborhood looking for extra pocket change, pass along the name.) You could also tell him about options like a city shoveling assistance program for homeowners age 60 and over, or with a disability.
If, after this conversation, he offers no solutions and his path remains poorly shoveled, call the city.