Homeowner’s duty to clear snow and ice can extend to tenants

Homeowners and in some cases, tenants have a duty to make sure people who walk on their property are safe.
Homeowners and in some cases, tenants have a duty to make sure people who walk on their property are safe. Photo: iStock.

Cold temperatures and snow may be cheery for some but for others it means increased responsibilities.

Homeowners, and in some cases tenants, have a duty to make sure people who walk on their property are safe. The person responsible for the property has to make sure that there is nothing that could create a hazard to visitors entering the premises. Hazards include snow and ice, often to blame for slip and fall accidents.

See: Property maintenance: what are your legal responsibilities?

Ontario has the Occupier’s Liability Act, which sets out the duties and responsibilities of occupiers of premises in s. 3. This section states that an “occupier of premises” has a duty of care towards people who come onto their property.

S. 1 of the Act casts a wide net when it comes to defining who is an “occupier”. The definition includes:

  • A person who is in physical possession of premises; or
  • A person who has responsibility for and control over the condition of premises or the activities there carried on, or control over persons allowed to enter the premises.

The question of who has the duty of care circles around the person responsible for maintenance or repair of the premises where there is both a homeowner and a tenant. If, despite the tenant having rented the house, the landlord is still responsible for maintenance and repair of the property, then the landlord is said to have a duty of care towards guests coming onto the premises.

When there is a dispute of who is the responsible party, the courts often carefully examine the lease and also the behaviour of the parties to inform them of whom to hold responsible if a visitor is injured on the premises. However, both the homeowner and tenant can be found to be occupants of the premises, which means they may be held jointly liable, if sued.

The lesson here is, whether you’re a homeowner or a tenant, make sure that you clear the snow and ice that accumulates on the property and salt your driveway within a reasonable amount of time of inclement weather.

What is a reasonable amount of time?

Next to the Occupier’s Liability Act, municipalities have bylaws that usually give a homeowner a limited amount of hours to get rid of snow and ice after the end of a snowfall. For example, the City of Vaughan, Ont. bylaw number 300-93 gives owners and occupants 24 hours to clean such accumulations.

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