Don’t let sidewalks sideswipe you—here’s what you need to know before buying a house.


Ella Belling was excited to move into her new house in First Ward. The small Cape Cod was charming and situated in a historic and walkable neighborhood—something that was important to her. Not long after she purchased her home, she received a letter from the city. “The city sent me a notice stating that the sidewalks in front of my house needed to be replaced, and that I was responsible.”

   

Belling called contractors to get estimates and was shocked. First, it was hard to even get an estimate from three different contractors. When the estimates did come in, they ranged from nearly $6,000 to $11,000. “I was pretty upset,” she recalls. “My sidewalks weren’t atrocious. I’d seen far worst in the neighborhood, and they looked the same as they did when I first purchased the house.”

The city has a policy on the books regarding sidewalk maintenance. Enforcement has been lax—but as Belling learned, it does happen, and it can be an unwelcome surprise. We learned that the city is currently creating an updated plan for sidewalks and pedestrian safety and is exploring options to help homeowners lessen the cost of needed repairs.

Meanwhile, what do home buyers need to know when purchasing homes with sidewalks within Morgantown city limits? We talked to the city to find out.

   

Who determines that sidewalks need to be replaced?

The city’s Engineering Department will make this determination. It can also be complaint-driven, which is then verified by the Engineering Department.

What is the notification process?

The city sends a certified letter of the need to repair or replace the sidewalk. If necessary, the city sends up to two follow-up letters, which are not certified.

What is the appeal process?

There is an option to waive the sidewalk requirement or request an extension, in certain instances. If a resident would like to request a waiver or extension of the sidewalk requirement, they should contact the Engineering Department to initiate the process.

If you get a notice to repair your sidewalk, what is your timeline for completion?

This depends on the time of year. During the winter months, December 21 through March 21, the city gives 6 months to get a contract or permit turned in for the work. Otherwise, the city allows 30 to 90 days.

What happens if you do not repair it?

The city has the option to do the work and send the homeowner the bill. If not paid, a lien can be put against the home.

If a pedestrian gets hurt on an uneven sidewalk, who is liable?

The homeowner is responsible for making sure it is safe for public use.

If a utility company tears up a sidewalk and a pedestrian gets hurt on it, who is liable?

It is up to the court to determine liability. The utility company is required to repair the sidewalk, and it is up to the homeowner to make sure the sidewalk is safe for public use.

When a utility company tears up a sidewalk, how many days do they have until it should be repaired?

Who monitors whether the repairs are adequate? This depends on the time of year. For instance, colder temperatures may call for for extra time to repair the sidewalk. Typically, the company is required to repair the sidewalk within 48 hours of completion of work. If a resident feels repairs haven’t been properly made, they should contact the city Engineering Department. They will review the complaint and, if necessary, follow up with the company.

If trees planted by the city or long-standing mature trees buckle a sidewalk, who is responsible for repairs?

Property owners are always responsible for the repair and maintenance of sidewalks; however, the city typically repairs the sidewalk if it was damaged by a tree in the public right of way.

What happens if a sidewalk ends at a property line and doesn’t continue? Is the homeowner responsible for adding a sidewalk?

City laws currently require that a sidewalk be installed or repaired any time construction occurs at a property. Any removal of a sidewalk must be approved by the city.

Are homeowners responsible for making sidewalks Americans with Disabilities Act–compliant?

Homeowners are not required to upgrade existing sidewalks that do not meet ADA width requirements. A homeowner may be responsible for negligence/upkeep or poor installation, and any new construction should meet ADA requirements where feasible. The city is responsible for ensuring that sidewalk ramps are ADA-compliant, and has been upgrading ramps over the past several years.

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