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Property owners and sidewalks

Posted September 17, 2014 in Advice Column, Grimes

Grimes is a family town with a very high population of children who use our sidewalks. Thus, keeping them in good shape is important and required by law. Grimes City Ordinance Chapter 136 sets out the property owner’s responsibility.

• Repair and replace. If a sidewalk runs through your property, you are required to keep it free from damage or hazards.

If you decide you need to repair, replace or remove more than 25 percent of the existing sidewalk, you first need to get a permit.

All sidewalk construction or repair must be made with Portland cement. It is the most common type of cement used in the United States, but the system used to manufacture it is notorious for causing greenhouse gases. More “green” options have been developed. Perhaps city ordinances will need to keep up with changes in technology.

• Construction. Some neighborhoods in older sections of town do not have sidewalks. The city has the authority to require property owners to install sidewalks. The city ordinance dictates the width, grade, finish, etc. The cost will be assessed against the owner’s property taxes.

• Maintenance. If your sidewalk is in an unsafe condition, you must erect approved lighted barriers to keep people away from it. People can sue you if they are hurt because of your unsafe sidewalk.

Within 24 hours after accumulation of snow or ice, you must clear your sidewalk. The ordinance does not specify how much accumulation is needed before the ordinance applies.

• Penalty. If you fail to maintain, repair or keep your sidewalk clear of snow or ice, the city has the authority to hire someone else to do it and then assess the cost against the property taxes.

• Final thoughts. I once dealt with a case where a property owner (not in Grimes) sprinkled ball bearings all over her sidewalk because she was trying to discourage a neighbor, with whom she had a grudge, from walking on the sidewalk in front of her house. This was illegal in that town and is illegal in Grimes as well. It is illegal to drive across (or carve your initials in) someone’s newly poured sidewalk, drive on the sidewalk, paint the sidewalk, write on the sidewalk, have a fire on the sidewalk, place any dangerous objects (nails, glass, wire, ball bearings, even litter) on the sidewalk, or set up a lemonade stand on the sidewalk (unless you have a permit). Lest you think this is too restrictive, you can take comfort in knowing that the Grimes sidewalk ordinance very closely mirrors Iowa State law and nearly every other Iowa town’s sidewalk ordinance.

Information provided by Cynthia Letsch, Letsch Law Firm, 112 N.E. Ewing St., Suite D, Grimes, 515-986-2810,

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