With or without warning tag, snow ordinance still in place

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published January 19, 2011

 The Eastpointe snow ordinance requires property owners to clear snow from all city sidewalks that border their property.

The Eastpointe snow ordinance requires property owners to clear snow from all city sidewalks that border their property.

Photo by Sara Kandel


EASTPOINTE — City officials announced that while Eastpointe’s snow removal ordinance is still in place, they will no longer warn repeat violators in advance of a contractor removing the snow for them.

The ordinance requires businesses and homeowners to remove snow from all city sidewalks that border their property. Previously, properties in violation of the ordinance were tagged with an orange sticker, warning them that they had 24 hours to remove the snow, or the city would remove it, and they would be fined. Then, a red tag would announce the fine.

“It’s far too labor intensive to continue to tag an individual house every time we are going to shovel snow,” said Karen Van Haaren, a building official for the city.

Van Haaren said that she estimates the city put out more than 800 warning stickers in December.

“Given the manpower it takes and the amount of work it is to put out that many stickers,” she said, “that part of the internal process is changing.”

Walter Kiehler, a code enforcement official and assistant building official for Eastpointe, said that after last week’s snowfall, enforcers were told they no longer had to tag the homes that repeatedly violated the ordinance.

“We were placing orange tags on all the doors in violation of the snow ordinance as a reminder that they needed to remove the snow within 24 hours,” Kiehler said. “Now, after this last snowfall, we will no longer be tagging repeat violators, many of which were vacant homes, not occupied homes.”

Van Haaren says both the red tags and the orange tags were an effort by the city to let residents know the ordinance was in effect, but the ordinance has been in place for some time now, and in the future, the tags might be all together eliminated.

“Last year, given that it was the first year that we had the snow ordinance,” Van Haaren said, “we put tags on the doors, so people would know. It was just an extra level of notification to the property owner, above and beyond that which the ordinance requires.”

The city advertised news of the ordinance in local papers, on its cable network and on the city website, and will continue to do so, but the warning stickers will soon become a thing of the past.

“They will have to be aware of what the ordinance is and will have to do it themselves, or we will send our contractors out,” Van Haaren said.

The language of the ordinance doesn’t spell out for homeowners just when the city code enforcers will be out. The ordinance says snow must be removed within 24 hours of when it stops falling, but it does not address situations where it snows, stops for a while and then snows again. Van Haaren said the city waits to send code enforcers out until after DPW has cleared the streets.

“The ordinance doesn’t speak to all these different instances, so I, along with the city manager, get our heads together and get a game plan together for each snowfall, as to when we are going to send our code enforcement officers to identify those who haven’t complied with the ordinance.”

What the ordinance does say is that property owners are responsible for clearing snow from any city sidewalk that touches their property. For most residents, that is one strip of sidewalk — occasionally two, if they have a corner lot, for example — but Van Haaren says for some residents it’s even more.

“Some of the properties butt up to Eight Mile Road and a side street, and if they are a corner lot, they have to clear in front of their house, on the side of their house and in the back of their house.”

She said it’s rare that a resident will have to clear three strips of sidewalk, but it does happen and that is why the city assesses fines based on the amount of sidewalk their contractors have to clear. Van Haaren says the fee is minimal, often around $12, but added to that is a $50 administrative fee tacked on by the city.

The fines are not a legal citation, Van Haaren said. The fines are sent via a bill to each property owner who is in violation of the ordinance. If the fine is not paid, a late charge is tacked on and it’s added to the property owner’s taxes.

Both Kiehler and Van Haaren say that most residents do comply with the ordinance, and repeat violators are often actually abandoned or foreclosed homes, but despite the circumstance, the property owner is still responsible for the removal of the snow.

Van Haaren says that seniors, too, are responsible for snow removal. However, many seniors are not in a position to physically be able to remove the snow themselves, and in financially trying times, the cost is sometimes too high for seniors to pay to have the snow removed.

That’s where groups like Helping Hands, run out of St. Clair Shores, come in. Helping Hands assists seniors that are unable to remove the snow on their own by finding volunteers or low-cost groups to do it for them.

With the growing number of seniors in need of help in the St. Clair Shores area, though, Helping Hands Director Cindy Siterlet said she is forced to send seniors from neighboring cities to the county for help.

She recommends the Macomb County Community Services Agency, or MCCSA.

“The problem is,” she said, “they only take seniors in the most economical or social need.”

Siterlet says seniors must fill out forms to be involved in the MCCSA program, confirming their income, property value and other factors.

The Eastpointe Senior Center also offers winter resources for seniors. Catherine Gerds Habernas, an assistant at the Senior Center, said they have compiled a list of people and companies willing to remove the snow for seniors at a low cost.

“There are programs like The Home Chores Program,” Habernas said, “but seniors have to sign up far in advance for that program. So, we have compiled a list of people willing to help and seniors can contact us, here at the Senior Center, for those numbers.”

The Eastpointe Senior Center, located at 16435 Eight Mile Road, can be reached at (586) 445-5084 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Home Chores Program offers free snow removal for seniors who qualify, but seniors must sign up prior to the beginning of the season. The Home Chores Program can be reached at (586) 759-9150.