Amendment could see municipalities gain responsibility for sidewalks

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Until now, property owners in the Czech Republic have had to bear the responsibility for the clearing sidewalks in front of their buildings, in the winter removing ice and snow. Those that refused, risked fines - or even potential lawsuits - from anyone breaking their arm or leg on a slippery patch. Now, a senator from the ruling Civic Democratic Party is proposing an amendment that could see all that change: with responsibility for sidewalks transferred from property owners to municipalities, regions, and the state.

Anyone who has ever cleared snow, whether in a blizzard or the day after, will tell you it is a major hassle and added worry. But property owners in the Czech Republic - their buildings adjacent to public sidewalks, really haven't had a choice: to date required to care for the walks either by contracting firms to do it, or by doing it themselves. That could now change if a new proposal gains support in Parliament. Responsibility could soon be transferred from individual owners to towns and cities. A little earlier I spoke to Libor Dellin, of the property rights association the OSMD.

"Let me point out that sidewalks don't belong to individuals but to municipalities. Yet, absurdly, owners are the ones who have to maintain sidewalks in front of their properties and to bear the costs and responsibilities. Owners have to pay for clearance and maintenance, which can cost several thousand crowns per year. We would be happy to see the law changed, and the matter corrected. Everyone who uses sidewalks in any area benefits, so responsibility should be held by the city."

As the author of the plan Senator Jaroslav Kubera has pointed out, responsibility for walks is a year-long task, and accidents can happen even under the most bizarre circumstances in which owners nevertheless are accountable. Senator Kubera spoke to public broadcaster Czech TV:

"Owners are responsible even in cases where a pedestrian has slipped on dog excrement on the walk. Even in such cases, owners bear responsibility."

For their part, individual municipalities do not appear set against changes to the law, although they caution they would need to see in an increase in their budgets to care for all the new walks. Senator Kubera disagrees, saying it's a matter of priorities: smaller towns, for example, could make use of road signs making clear some routes and sidewalks would not be maintained in winter. According to reports, local city councils would basically have to reach agreement with residents on which areas would be cleared. So far there are indications that the proposal could gain backing not only among Civic but also the opposition Social Democrats.