Dealing with snow removal in Massachusetts

14 Replies

Hi everyone,

I'm wondering how other rental property owners handle snow removal in the winter in Massachusetts and other areas that get a lot of snow. With the amount of snow we got last year in Massachusetts, it seems that rental property owners would require having plows clean their rental properties multiple times a day on really bad days, and I would expect maintenance costs to go through the roof because of this.

Have you negotiated with snow removal companies to get good rates or do you have any other tips on dealing with snow removal? Is there an average rate to expect for snow removal per time they need to clean your lot? 

Unforeseen blizzards and high snow removal costs make it difficult to analyze deals effectively if you need to have a plow come by your property a couple times a day during a snow storm, multiple times a month if its really bad. I've heard that in these areas, investors make their money in the spring and summer months, and spend unused budget from spring and summer during the winter. However, if you end up spending all of your maintenance and repair budget in the summer, it seems there's a high chance of losing money or having negative cash flow in the winter.

Thanks,

-Joe

@Joe Rinella,

First, how do you handle the snow?

2nd I buy new shovels, salt and sand for all my properties before any snow ever falls that way if someone HAS to get out they can start.

That's a good idea Mike. I thought as a landlord you were required to clean the driveway for the tenants at all times so they can always get out, but it's good to know they can shovel themselves out if they have to. 

I don't own any investment properties yet. I'm analyzing deals and putting in offers and may own my first investment property before the winter is over, so I want to make sure I'm accurately estimating maintenance (including snow removal) on deals I'm putting offers in.

Thanks,

-Joe

Originally posted by @Joe Rinella :

That's a good idea Mike. I thought as a landlord you were required to clean the driveway for the tenants at all times so they can always get out, but it's good to know they can shovel themselves out if they have to. 

I don't own any investment properties yet. I'm analyzing deals and putting in offers and may own my first investment property before the winter is over, so I want to make sure I'm accurately estimating maintenance (including snow removal) on deals I'm putting offers in.

Thanks,

-Joe

 I make my tenants fully responsible for snow removal. I add it to the lease and make sure to be upfront with them when I show the unit (I do the same for lawn care). As a landlord, you're not required to clean the driveway. Providing bags of salt and shovels may be a good idea though. If you don't, and have a poor lease, you may open yourself up to a lawsuit if someone slips and falls.

Originally posted by @Chad Duval :
Originally posted by @Joe Rinella:

That's a good idea Mike. I thought as a landlord you were required to clean the driveway for the tenants at all times so they can always get out, but it's good to know they can shovel themselves out if they have to. 

I don't own any investment properties yet. I'm analyzing deals and putting in offers and may own my first investment property before the winter is over, so I want to make sure I'm accurately estimating maintenance (including snow removal) on deals I'm putting offers in.

Thanks,

-Joe

 I make my tenants fully responsible for snow removal. I add it to the lease and make sure to be upfront with them when I show the unit (I do the same for lawn care). As a landlord, you're not required to clean the driveway. Providing bags of salt and shovels may be a good idea though. If you don't, and have a poor lease, you may open yourself up to a lawsuit if someone slips and falls.

 For single family homes this is spot on. For multifamily, good luck getting your tenants to take care of it! The only advice I have for vetting snow removal contractors is get multiple bids and check their insurance to make sure the're actually covered for plowing. It's a separate endorsement/line item and it's not cheap. The reason it's not cheap is there is a lot of liability with snow removal. Slip and falls, damaged property, etc. Make sure you're listed as additional insured. 

@Chad Duval Thanks for the input Chad. Are your tenants in multifamily units? I know for single family homes the tenants are usually responsible, but I thought for multifamily properties the landlord is responsible for snow removal.

@Troy S. Thanks for the information. I'm not exactly sure what you mean about being insured for snow removal. Would I need my insurance policy on the home to cover people doing snow removal, or just ask the snow removal company if they are insured for plowing in case something happens, and ask them to add me to the insurance? I don't understand why I would need to be listed as additionally insured unless its on the insurance policy for the property I own?

Originally posted by @Joe Rinella :

@Chad Duval Thanks for the input Chad. Are your tenants in multifamily units? I know for single family homes the tenants are usually responsible, but I thought for multifamily properties the landlord is responsible for snow removal.

@Troy S. Thanks for the information. I'm not exactly sure what you mean about being insured for snow removal. Would I need my insurance policy on the home to cover people doing snow removal, or just ask the snow removal company if they are insured for plowing in case something happens, and ask them to add me to the insurance? I don't understand why I would need to be listed as additionally insured unless its on the insurance policy for the property I own?

Sorry, I should have distinguished the property type. I was referring to SFH.

So I am no Lawyer, but I am pretty sure this website knows what it's talking about.  Seems to me that the answer to the snow question is YES & NO depending on the structure.  Well worth readying if you own rentals in MASS!

http://massrealestatelawblog.com/tag/massachusetts...

From the site.......

I own a two family rental property with a driveway and one common walkway and entrance. Am I responsible for shoveling snow on the driveway and/or walkway?

The answer is yes. Under a 2010 Supreme Judicial Court ruling, all property owners (rental or owner occupied) can be held liable for failing to remove snow and ice from their property. The old rule was that owners didn’t have to remove “natural accumulations” of snow and ice, but the court overruled that in favor of a general obligation to keep property safe for all visitors and guests. There are also many local town and city ordinances which likewise obligate property owners to keep snow and ice off their property and sidewalks. I will discuss some of those below.

Can I use a lease which provides that the tenant is responsible for snow removal. Is that legal and will that protect me from liability?

It depends on your particular property. Landlords have the primary responsibility for snow removal at a rental property. Under the State Sanitary Code, property owners/landlords must keep all means of egress free from obstruction — that cannot be negotiated away. As for the removal of snow and ice, the Code provides that the landlord shall maintain all means of egress at all times in a safe, operable condition and shall keep all exterior stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies and bridges free of snow and ice. Again, those obligations cannot be negotiated away.

A landlord may require the tenant be responsible for snow and ice remove in a lease provision only where a dwelling has an independent means of egress, not shared with other occupants, and a written lease provides for same. On its face, this exception only applies to entrance-ways and not driveways or parking areas. I am not aware of a court ruling on this particular Code provision, but if I were a landlord I would not risk being on the wrong side of a “test case” where someone is injured badly.

So, in the example above with an owner occupied two family with one common entrance and driveway, that lease provision would be illegal.

Even if the tenant is responsible for snow removal under a legal lease provision, the landlord could still face personal injury liability for slip and falls on snow and ice under the SJC ruling. A guest or visitor who is injured due to untreated snow or ice will likely sue both the property owner and the tenant. The property owner must ultimately ensure that the property is safe for visitors.

Wow thanks a lot for the detailed explanation @Matthew Forbes This is great information to know. Looks like I'm going to have to find ways to keep snow removal costs as low as possible then since I'm focusing on multifamily units. If anyone else has tips on keeping snow removal costs down please do let us all know!

Originally posted by :

@Troy S. Thanks for the information. I'm not exactly sure what you mean about being insured for snow removal. Would I need my insurance policy on the home to cover people doing snow removal, or just ask the snow removal company if they are insured for plowing in case something happens, and ask them to add me to the insurance? I don't understand why I would need to be listed as additionally insured unless its on the insurance policy for the property I own? 

Your contractor should be insured for snow removal. At least from what I've seen, it's a separate type or rider of insurance. Additional insured:

In US insurance policies, an additional insured is a person or organization that enjoys the benefits of being insured under an insurance policy, in addition to whoever originally purchased the insurance policy.

This is a great topic.  Snow removal is my number one challenge. I just can't find anyone reliable to do areas that are not plowable... e.g. sidewalks, pathways, and stairs.  I keep snow blowers, shovels, ice scrapers, and salt at each of my properties so I don't have to lug them around.  Unfortunately, I end up doing most of the work myself.  When we get a lot snow I have to take a day off from work to clear out my six properties.  I think the problem is the work is too labor intensive for a company to scale if the area is not plowable.  I would to hear what others are doing.

This is a great thread!
I would love to get some approximate numbers on respectable costs for this type of work.
I manage a 40 unit property in Connecticut and our snow removal bill for this past snowstorm of 15 inches was $1,500 dollars! Is this reasonable or highway robbery? And yes how does $10,000 of snow removal a winter allow for a property to be profitable?

I'm wondering how many landlords have a firm handle on what the requirements are and how many of them have paid the price in terms of a slip and fall or fines from the city for not clearing soon enough.  I'm a new landlord with two duplexes entering my first winter of management and this all has me pretty nervous.  

One thing I have been wondering is what are the thresholds the necessitate a clearing?  It doesn't seem that there is one, and technically speaking from what I am reading, any amount of snow accumulation that resulted in a "dangerous condition" that leads to a slip and fall could have a landlord be liable, even if it was just an inch of snow (which no one is going to get plowed).  

It also seems that if you have a multifamily with multiple means of egress, they all have to be cleared.  I don't see exceptions there.  So if one of my means of egress is a two story back deck, that technically means in any snow event I need to keep those two flights of deck stairs completely cleared at all times and if a tenant slips and falls because I didn't get to it in time then I'm liable in court?  

To me this seems like it makes it almost impossible to completely comply with the requirements and scale your business to many small multifamily properties given the lack of reliability with sidewalk shovelers, inability to be at all properties at the same time, the fact that every means of egress needs clearing, the fact that it may not be physically possible to get to each property, the fact that snow is falling everywhere at the same time and can continuously fall so you can't stagger it and even after you clear it the snow can recover, and the seemingly blanket liability owned by the landlord if conditions are deemed unsafe because they weren't completely cleared when someone slipped and fell.  

That's a lot to deal with!