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A shovel-ready project

Bill Stenz | Thursday, February 4, 2010

 Quoting Tim Ramer’s letter to Voice of the People, on Sunday, Jan. 31: “Why is it that nothing is done to South Bend residents who refuse to shovel the sidewalks in front of their homes?

At a recent meeting of the Community/Campus Advisory Coalition, on Jan. 27, I asked this same question why off-campus student housing rarely have sidewalks and driveways shoveled. In attendance were representatives from the colleges, City of South Bend, area landlords and northeast residents (who particularly are hard hit by this lack of snow removal). The response from the largest student landlord, Mark Kramer, was that he sent a newsletter out to his tenants to remind them of this requirement. The Notre Dame student body president, Grant Schmidt, has also urged off-campus students to follow the law, via the student newspaper, The Observer, and through off-campus student government representatives.
It was obvious to all in attendance that these students are not in town during the winter break. The South Bend Director of Code Enforcement, Cathy Toppel, stated that it is the property owner’s responsibility for snow removal, and the property owner of record could receive a 24-hour notice to abate the snow condition, when a violation is brought to an inspector’s attention and after review. The procedure for fines is not in the law. The only way for the City to abate the condition (and generate a fine) is to send a crew out to remove the snow, and then process the work/fine as is done with lawn mowing, tree cutting, etc.
Mr. Kramer indicated that his student tenants are required under his leases to perform snow removal on sidewalks and drives. Mr. Kramer’s tenants are not required to perform grass cutting or leaf raking; however, he requires them to remove snow when they are back at home during the holidays. Something is not right here. The City places this burden on the property owner. Currently, there is no procedure in place to timely remove snow on residential sidewalks and driveways unless an owner/occupant (or prearranged contractor) performs this service.
An idea came up at the meeting, though somewhat jokingly, that a snow removal contractor(s) be available to respond to snow removal complaints that are not addressed by the property owner within the 24-hour period the Code Enforcement citation directs. These contractors (with proper liability and other required insurance/bonds, etc.) could perform this service and attach liens on the property owner for reimbursement. It was jokingly said Mr. Kramer could even be one of these contractors, essentially disavowing snow removal responsibility and reaping monetary reward by his own tenants’ default.
This sounds silly and it is, but it would perform a necessary safety requirement and keep pedestrians off the streets and on the sidewalks. It could provide small business opportunities and employ a large amount of day laborers/unemployed people. It might also convince landlords, “weekend rental” owners, vacant property owners, and our residents/business owners, that they are responsible for snow removal, or they can pay someone else. Who knows, carried further, it could create a new business model for year round employment of large numbers in our community. No matter how we resolve this, Tim Ramer wants a solution.
Bill Stenz 
Class of 1978
Feb. 3