Building Negligence: A slippery slope

If you are walking down the street in the midst of a beautiful snow fall, you are likely not thinking of the potential accumulation of ice on buildings.

The ice that accumulates at the edge of a roof is called an ice dam. Ice dams develop because rooftop snow melts at a faster rate than outside temperatures and when water hits the lower ledge of the roof, the water freezes.

Throughout the winter season, an ice dam can increase in size and weight from the ongoing melting and freezing of snow. It is not uncommon for these icicles to weigh a significant amount. The ice dam is a hazard that can potentially cause serious injury to a person it lands on.

Removing ice from buildings is essential to keep the public safe when travelling in Ontario, especially areas surrounded by high-rise structures.

Who Is Ultimately Responsible for Removing Ice from Buildings?

There are different statutes and legal principles that outline liability for when and how a person could be held responsible for ice falling from a building that results in personal injury.

Occupiers’ Liability Act

Section 3 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act outlines an occupier’s duty of care. The occupier must provide reasonably safe circumstances for persons entering the premises and while on the premises. The occupier’s duty of care applies to dangerous conditions or activities taking place on their premises.

Municipal By-laws

It is also important to look at your local by-laws.

If you are a resident in Toronto, Chapter 719-4 of the Toronto Municipal Code governs who is responsible for removing snow and ice from structures. Chapter 719-4 states that the owner or occupant of any building near a highway is responsible for immediate removal of snow and ice that accumulates on the building. Ice removal must be performed when ice forms to a degree that would pose a danger to the public using a sidewalk, laneway or highway. The occupant and property owner of the building has a duty to warn the public of the danger during removal of ice.

In Ottawa, the Property Maintenance By-Law No. 2005-208 states that the occupant and owner of the property are responsible for the removal of snow and ice that accumulates on roof tops that create a hazard.

In Brampton, the Snow and Ice Removal By-Law 242-76 states that the occupant and property owner of a building that fronts or abuts a street, where ice is likely to fall, must remove the ice immediately.

Although each of these by-laws state that an occupant and owner are liable to remove snow and ice from buildings, you must nevertheless look up your municipality’s by-laws.

Negligence

An occupier and owner could also be negligent and found liable by failing to clear ice and snow from buildings. For example, in Meredith v. Peer, 1917 CanLII 519 (ON CA), a plaintiff sustained injuries from snow and ice that fell from a building. The court held that the defendant, the owner of the building, was liable in negligence for not preventing the ice and snow from falling on the plaintiff. The court reasoned that the defendant should have prevented the fall of ice and snow by installing guards or other means to stop snow and ice from sliding from the roof or the defendant could have removed the snow or ice altogether.

How to Protect Yourself from Liability?

If you are responsible for removing snow and ice from buildings, you can take measures to protect yourself from liability. You can do so by placing safety warnings about falling ice and eliminating any ice that would be a hazard to public traveling on highways, sidewalks or laneways.

There are no particular procedures to remove ice dams from your roof. Ice dams can be removed by using an ice pick, de-icing cables, or a chemical de-icer product. You can also hire a third-party company to remove ice dams.

To prevent ice dams altogether, you may want to consider updating the ventilation and insulation of your roof. You can do this by taking the following actions:

  • Ensure that there are no air leaks;
  • Ensure that your ducts are clean; and
  • Increase insulation in the attic.

Ultimately, you should have a regular winter routine for evaluation and maintenance of winter hazards.

It is important to be proactive in removing ice dams from your structures to avoid liability and prevent any persons from sustaining serious injury.

Natascha Coverdale
Written by

Natascha Coverdale is a recent graduate of the Canadian and American Dual J.D program at the University of Windsor and Detroit Mercy School of Law and recently joined Avanessy Giordano LLP as an Articling Student. Prior to law school, Natascha obtained her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Public Policy at the University of Guelph.

While in law school, Natascha was a Mentor in the Windsor Law Mentorship Program, Internal Vice President for the First Generation Network, Committee Member of the Student Law Society’s Sexual Assault Awareness Committee, and a Representative of the Family Law Society. Natascha participated in several moots including the Patrick Kennan Moot and Hicks Morley Labour Law Moot. Natascha was a Legal Intern for the Veterans Law Clinic at Detroit Mercy School of Law and a Caseworker at Community Legal Aid in Windsor. Natascha also obtained a Self-Represented Litigants and Access to Justice Certificate.

Outside of work, Natascha’s interests include reading, playing board games with her friends and family, and traveling.