Sharon and Dale Strader were shocked when the city of Springfield informed them they must fix the sidewalks along their corner lot or a city-selected contractor would do the work at their expense.
“You had no say-so. You are at their mercy,” said Dale Strader, who added that the couple is on a fixed income. “Some of the things they made us replace were kind of ridiculous.”
The bill came to $3,622 and sent the Straders into a financial tailspin. But some homeowners have had to dig even deeper. An I-Team investigation found high costs for some homeowners and a lot of confusion over who has to pay when cracked and uneven pavement must be replaced, with rules that are dramatically different depending on where you live.
The owner of one property along South Plum Street in Springfield was billed $14,349 for repairs to the sidewalks, curb and gutter when that street was repaved. Repairs can also be mandated by the city when a complaint is received from the public.
“People use those (sidewalks) as a mode of transportation and we want to keep those safe for those people who are using them throughout the community,” Deputy City Manager Bryan Heck said.
While Springfield’s program places the burden of sidewalk repairs entirely on the property owner, Vandalia has taken another approach. There the city has a voter-approved property tax levy that produces funding for street — and sidewalk — repairs, but the money covers only about 20 street projects a year.
Mary Laughter, a longtime Vandalia resident and owner of a home on a corner lot, said several sections of sidewalk at her house were replaced at city expense when the road was repaved. However, when the sidewalks along the adjoining street were deemed deficient by a city inspector, Laughter faced an estimated $2,000 worth of repair bills and a city deadline to get the work done within two weeks.
“I hate it because I think it is unfair,” she said. “I had just come out of being off work for quite a while, working several part-time jobs, and like everybody else, just making ends meet,” Laughter said. She said the city eased its deadline and a friend did the work for $500.
Homeowners in Oakwood have yet another set of sidewalk repair rules. There, corner lot owners are held responsible for sidewalk work at the front of the house, but if the walk along the side of the house on the adjoining street has problems, the city pays for repairs.
Washington Twp. goes further, picking up the tab for all sidewalk work, regardless of the location or expense. The township budgets $25,000-$30,000 to repair sidewalks on half a dozen streets each year.
Property owners should familiarize themselves with their responsibilities under local ordinances, advised Montgomery County Recorder Willis Blackshear, adding that property maps can be obtained from the county. Blackshear said many homeowners are unaware that they do not own the sidewalk. Still, they are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the sidewalk and the ground running to the street.
“That’s the way it is,,” Blackshear said emphatically.
The city of Dayton had a sidewalk program for years before it was cancelled in 2006 due to lack of funding, said Steve Finke, Deputy Director of Public Works. “These days we really do not go out and inspect every sidewalk in the city,” he said. “In the downtown area we have the ambassadors (a group of paid workers who pick up litter and remove graffiti for the Downtown Dayton Partnership). If they note something, a hazard in the sidewalk, they will notify us.”
Poorly maintained sidewalks can pose major safety risks. On June 30, Franklin Britton of Dayton luckily escaped injury when he fell several feet below the street’s surface when a sidewalk gave way in front of a building at East Third and St. Clair streets. Britton fell into the basement area of the building that extended under the sidewalk. In that case, the property owner was held liable for repairs.
Finke said Dayton has 1,700 lane miles of roadways and an estimated 1,000 to 1,200 miles of sidewalks. Without an ongoing sidewalk program like other cities, Dayton only takes action when there are accidents or complaints. In those cases, the city sends a letter telling the property owner to fix the problem. They can do it themselves or use one of the bonded contractors recommended by the city.
“If it is a real hazard we suggest they get it done as soon as possible,” Finke said. Unlike other cities, Dayton does not step in and do the work if the property owner fails to take action.
Nationwide there is no uniform way to pay for sidewalk repairs, but homeowners bear at least some of the burden in a majority of cities, according to a December 2014 study by Advocacy Advance, which promotes bicycle and pedestrian access. The study, which was based on local ordinances from 82 cities in 45 states, found:
- In 46 percent of the cities, the local government and property owner shares the cost of sidewalk repairs;
- In 40 percent of the cities, the property owner pays the full amount.
- In 13 percent, the city pays for all repairs.