Don’t take a snow day on shoveling the sidewalks. City fines totaled $155,000 last year.

Chicago property owners — and sometimes tenants — are responsible for removing snow from sidewalks. Failure to do so can lead to fines of $500.

The shovel show is on at snowy Chicago’s Daley Plaza.
Workers shovel walkways at Chicago's Daley Plaza. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
The shovel show is on at snowy Chicago’s Daley Plaza.
Workers shovel walkways at Chicago's Daley Plaza. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Don’t take a snow day on shoveling the sidewalks. City fines totaled $155,000 last year.

Chicago property owners — and sometimes tenants — are responsible for removing snow from sidewalks. Failure to do so can lead to fines of $500.

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If you plan on waiting for the snow on your sidewalk to melt, you might want to reconsider.

The Chicago Department of Transportation issued more than $155,000 in snow and ice removal fines in 2021 – more than four times the total from 2020, according to a WBEZ analysis of CDOT citation data from 2015 to the present.

The Municipal Code of Chicago 4-4-310 and 10-8-180 stipulate that property owners — and sometimes tenants — are responsible for clearing sidewalks of ice and snow. The regulations went into effect in November 2015.

CDOT has since issued more than 1,600 citations all over the city, but mostly in high-traffic areas on the North Side and Near West Side. The community areas with the fewest citations are on the Far North and South sides, like Calumet Heights and Rogers Park.

The 27th ward, which spans parts of areas from Greektown to East Garfield Park, had 93 citations last year, the highest in the city. The 43rd ward, which encompasses the Lakefront neighborhoods of Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast and Old Town, was second with 60 citations.

CDOT spokeswoman Susan Hofer told WBEZ in an email that enforcement is “primarily complaint-based.” Chicagoans can report locations that do not clear their sidewalks by submitting a 311 service request.

Last year, residents filed more than 6,000 sidewalk snow removal complaints, about 13% more than the 5,300 in 2020, according to 311 service request data. Similar to citations, these requests were concentrated in North Side and Near West Side neighborhoods.

CDOT said the drastic increase in citations compared to complaints can “most likely” be attributed to “an increase in the inspection staff (more inspectors means more citations) and the amount of days the snow lingers on the ground. The more days the snow is present, the more days the inspectors can issue citations.”

Last year, Chicago got 21.6 inches of snow in February, compared to just 8.8 inches in 2020. CDOT also tends to issue most of the citations in February, when the city gets an average of 10.7 inches of snow.

Fines range from $50 to upwards of $500 and are determined on a per-case basis by a judge at the Department of Administrative Hearings. Each day that the sidewalk remains uncleared can lead to a separate fine. WBEZ found that most locations in violation were charged once or twice, and only a handful of locations were charged four times or more.

The average fine amount has increased steadily since 2018, from $172 to $233 in 2021.

As of Feb. 14, CDOT has issued 74 citations in 2022, all of which were still pending at time of publication.

In addition to filing uncleared sidewalk complaints, residents can also request removal of ice and snow from city streets through the 311 system. The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation has received more than 9,000 requests for snow and ice removal this year alone.

Unlike citations and sidewalk complaints, which are clustered in North Side neighborhoods, requests to remove ice and snow removal from streets are higher on the South Side.

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation told WBEZ that snow plow locations are not tracked.


Charmaine Runes is WBEZ’s data/visuals reporter. Follow her @maerunes.