Snow Removal Laws Every Business Owner Should Know

Snow removal is an unfortunate reality for every Wisconsinite. On average, the state receives anywhere from 40–160 inches of snow each year.

Ice and snow drifts can be dangerous for potential customers walking by your business. Cities give heavy fines to property owners for unplowed snow on sidewalks. You can even be sued if someone is hurt on your icy walkways.

Here are 9 snow removal laws you should know to keep pedestrians (and your business) safe during winter weather.

1. The Countdown to Unwanted Fees

If you don’t want to pay a snow removal fee in Wisconsin, you’d better get to the sidewalk quickly. At 12 pm on the day after snowfall stops, the City of Madison will issue a fine for blocked sidewalks. The ordinance applies to both snow and ice across the entire width. If the ice is too thick, you must coat it in sand, salt, or some other deicer.

This link describes the ordinance in full. It only applies to public sidewalks. Before you think you’re off the hook, a different ordinance requires you to keep all walkways in a safe condition. You’ll receive a warning for sidewalks on private property if you don’t clear them.

Be sure to check your municipality’s laws about snow removal timing. Madison may be lenient, but Waukesha requires you to clear sidewalks 12 hours after snowfall ends. Milwaukee allows 24 hours to clear a sidewalk after a snow event.

Fees aren’t the only thing you’ll have to worry about if you don’t remove snow and ice. If someone gets injured on your sidewalk, you’ll be liable for medical bills and lost wages. Save yourself the trouble. Clear the walkways around your business as soon as possible.

2. Madison Gives out Sand

The ice on your sidewalks will sometimes be too thick to break. Salting can help, but people can still slip while the ice is melting. Put a generous amount of sand down on any icy paths to improve traction and avoid accidents.

Madison, WI supplies free sand to all citizens at deposit points around the city. It’s funded through your tax dollars, so you may as well go get the sand you pay for. Check here for a list of sand locations in Madison.

3. Hey, When Are They Clearing MY Road?

Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation website divides roads into 5 categories. Category 1 roads have over 75,000 vehicles using it per day and are cleared the fastest. An interstate is an example of a category 1 roadway.

Category 5 roads are not cleared as quickly due to resource availability or safety. Most category 5 roads have traffic volume of less than 5,000 vehicles per day. Does your business sit on a side street? You’ll be waiting much longer than a business right off the interstate will. You may want to hire your own plowing service if the snow impedes traffic and isn’t cleared fast enough.

4. Snowplow Safety

If your business employs drivers, it’s important to remind them of snowplow safety. Snowplows only drive 25–35 miles per hour. You have to stay 200 feet back from one if the speed limit on the road is over 35.

It may be legal to pass a snowplow, but drivers crash into them every year. Don’t let your employees become a statistic.

Passing a snowplow is dangerous. Beyond the obvious road conditions, the snow cloud from the vehicle will obscure your driver’s vision. Its wing blades can extend 10 feet from the side and drop down into your driver’s path. Your driver could also miss the headlights of an oncoming vehicle and get into an accident that way.

Follow this link to get more information about snowplow laws in Wisconsin.

5. No Snow Dumping

If you move snow accumulation from your sidewalk into the street, the City of Milwaukee will fine you. You are allowed to move all snow into the strip between the sidewalk and the curb. You can also move it onto your own grass. As long as it’s off a walkway and public property, your checkbook should be safe.

6. So You Got Fined?

If you were fined by your city and feel it’s unwarranted, you can appeal the charge. In Milwaukee, the filing fee for an appeal is $25. This is no doubt in place to discourage you from fighting it, but if you have a strong case, you should. You can find the Milwaukee appeal application here.

7. Snowplow Sabotage

After learning about the fees you’ll pay for neglecting sidewalks, you’ve worked hard to shovel every bit of snow into your lawn. You walk back outside to find your work undone. Was it sabotage? Maybe a competitor is trying to run you out of business!

You look down the street to find a snowplow throwing all the snow back onto the freshly-scraped sidewalk.

It may be an injustice, but it’s still your responsibility to clear your sidewalks again. You can shake your fist at every snowplow you see. You’ll have to pull the shovel back out if you want to avoid a fine.

8. Could You Warn Me First?

When it comes to tickets, your city won’t issue any warnings. Snow and ice are safety issues. The government wants to encourage you to shovel and de-ice as soon as possible.

During especially heavy storms, the city might make exceptions. Those are rare cases, though, so don’t count on them. It’s best to remove snow and ice as soon as possible. Waiting only makes the job harder, anyway.

9. Lazy Neighbors

If a neighboring business doesn’t shovel their sidewalk, it could affect your business’ foot traffic. It could also get someone hurt. The City of Madison allows individuals to report un-shoveled sidewalks on their website. You can follow this link to make a report.

Final Thoughts

Snow and ice removal may be a chore, but it’s a necessary business expense. It’s also an important part of maintaining operations through the winter. Stay informed of the latest policy changes. Pass important information down to your employees. With these laws in mind, you can avoid tickets and keep potential customers out of harm’s way.