City Owned Steps but Private Repair?

9 Replies

Hello.  Wanted to bounce this off someone as a first step, please.

Rental property has about 6 concrete stairs (carriage walk) going from the street to the sidewalk.  Steep grassy hill in front, so hard to get from street to sidewalk without steps for neighbors.  We have a corner lot, so tenant could walk to corner and use the sidewalk.  Less convenient, but doable.  Tenant likely uses stairs just as much.

A few of these stairs have some damage to 'treads' - few hours and some patch needed.  Also, just noticed that the metal handrail fell off and tenant didn't mention!  That's a more expensive repair.

Called zoning to ask who they belong to.  First answer was 'city property' and 'here are two people to call for repair'.  One person finally called back today - City Engineer.  He said they are city property, but the city won't fix them.  I have to come in, get a permit, and repair.  Other person (Street Dept) never bothered to call back.

If you eyeballed it standing on the street, our side property line and the neighbors... just about divides the stairs in half.  I called the neighbor homeowners who are meticulous.  Polite but not as interested in me, perhaps.  Mentioned the City should repair.

Very picky insurance inspector came out a few months back and also didn't mention, although the handrail was still up then.  Any insight on what I should do next?   Thank you.

@Dennis M.

Thanks for the reply.  I think you nailed what rubs me the most!  


It's held in an LLC with a out of area mailing address - registered agent - for privacy. Cash buy. I'm curious how he would have responded if I was the owner-occupant neighbor in this nicer neighborhood - especially since the first guy was so adamant that it was the cities' problem. Another consideration for holding in one's own name, perhaps?

Maybe show up at a city council meeting and express your dilemma there.  I would position it (diplomatically) that you work hard on your business to help improve the neighborhood and pay your share of municipal taxes, and you just want a reciprocation of that investment to repair the "city's property."  I would try and paint somebody into a corner that they can't have it both ways - either it's your steps or it's theirs - the respective owner/steward should shoulder the responsibility.  Perhaps by bringing attention to it at a public meeting the "right" person will hear you/get wind of it and send one of their guys out to spend an hour to "make the problem go away."

If that doesn't work, move up the proper chains of command in the city (city engineer's boss/head of DPW, etc.).  If they are not responsive, insist on a meeting with the mayor.  Voice your concerns on their social media/web forums.  Be pushy until you are granted audience.  Be positive and non-confrontational at the meeting.

The squeaky wheel gets the oil. 

I run into this all the time in Michigan.  In my experience you try and fight the man, they push back, may take some time, but they always win.  

For around 2k, your problem should go away.  Fight the city for 6 months or pay 2k.  Call me crazy but I would just pay the 2k for peace of mind and time savings and move on.

Originally posted by @Wesley W. : The squeaky wheel gets the oil. 

The oil he's going to be receiving is likely in the form of a stern letter from some city department letting him know that the stairs need to be repaired and it is his responsibility to make the repairs and if he fails the city will do it for him at a cost of 4X what he could do it for. 

Sadly a lot of places are putting the upkeep cost of areas located near private property on the owners of that property. The city plants a tree and grass in the curb strip/berm near your property. It is now your responsibility to trim the tree and water and cut the grass. The tree damages the sidewalk and it is your responsibility to fix the sidewalk. Someone injures themselves on the sidewalk and you are now liable. You own none of it, cannot make any changes to it, but are responsible for all of it.

This has always been a thorn in my side with municipalities. Sidewalks are a huge one especially...the city/town/village owns the sidewalk if you need to block it for some reason (you need a permit), but come time to replace it, remove snow, etc. it belongs to the property owner. Unfortunately, I think you'd lose this battle and are probably better off fixing it. Like @Greg M. said, if the city does it, it will be 4x the cost..and they'd probably add it to your tax bill so you HAVE to pay it or go into tax foreclosure. 

Thank you.  The different perspectives are interesting.  I think a lot depends on the area and local government.


As far as me eating the cost if the city billed me, only about 1/2 of the stairs lay upon what could even remotely be considered 'my responsibility'.  So, they'd have to bill the neighbor, too.  Not a meaningful point, but still.

I'm selling this place by spring.  I almost wish I hadn't said anything, but they need to be fixed.


The actual steps should hopefully cost less than $500 to repair - they aren't in bad condition.  If I have to fix the handrail, I won't be paying to have a metal one put up.  I'd slap a wood one up on 'my side'.

My biggest issue is what @Matthew Paul mentions, too.  Where does the responsibility end?  But, if I do sell it's not a long-term concern for me, I suppose. 

Sort of like sidewalks (which have precedent that seems to be relatively homeowner friendly around here), but this isn't quite that.  


I'll keep asking around and update with what I find out and/or do, for posterity's sake.  

Can I tell my tenant not to use them until they are fixed?  Winter and concrete work isn't easy.

Follow up.  I contacted the district council person.  She looked into it, and agreed that the city is responsible for repair.  She will work to get it put on the sidewalk repair schedule for this year.  I know it's not fixed, yet.  But, thus far, I'm impressed.