A crack in your sidewalk can spell more than bad luck. Depending on where you live, it can cost you several hundred dollars to repair and lead to liability headaches.
In about half of South Florida’s municipalities, homeowners are responsible for city-owned sidewalks. But many don’t know and find out the hard way.
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It hit home for residents of Boca Raton‘s Hidden Valley last February after a woman tripped over her neighbor’s sidewalk and broke her finger. After the city denied responsibility, she turned to the homeowner for damages, said Margaret Rabasa, a 16-year resident.
“I was under the impression that sidewalks were government property and that they were responsible for it,” said Rabasa, a stay-at-home mom.
The incident convinced her to have the city immediately repair 20 feet of uneven sidewalk on the side of her house, she said. She was billed $475 for the work.
Mike Woika, Boca Raton‘s assistant city manager, said that since 1999 the city has equated sidewalk maintenance with that of swales: “When you move into a house, you can’t not cut the swale.”
But cities such as Delray Beach, Coral Springs and Weston don’t extend that responsibility to the homeowner, as long as the sidewalk isn’t owned by a homeowner’s association.
“They are part of our public right of way. In that vein, we have an ongoing sidewalk repair program, so if there were a crack, the city would go ahead and take responsibility for repair, said Diane Phillips, assistant city manager in Tamarac.
Officially, sidewalk maintenance is the homeowner’s responsibility in Hallandale Beach, but this fiscal year the city began splitting the repair costs with residents, as they do in Dania Beach.
“It’s tough for some people to come up with the money,” said Hallandale spokesman Peter Dobens. “And keeping sidewalks repaired … makes the city more livable.”
How strictly a city enforces its sidewalk codes can also vary wildly.
Between June 1, 2011 and June 1, 2012, for example, Boca Raton sent out 114 notices that a sidewalk needed repair. In that same time, Fort Lauderdale sent out 12 notices and Plantation, 33.
The crackdown on cracks is usually a result of a neighbor’s complaint or a homeowner’s own observations.
Elise Winn, 73, of Boca Raton Square, said she was shocked that telling the city about her cracked sidewalk yielded a bill for $334.72 – and news that a lien against her home would be imposed if she didn’t pay it.
The city inspection that resulted from her report meant her neighbor got a bill, too: for $383.28
“He had just moved into the house a few months earlier” when the bill arrived, said the widowed volunteer for Boca Raton Regional Hospital.
Over at Hidden Valley, the sidewalk trip has left hard feelings.
“We never use it (the sidewalk),” said homeowner Almudena Klingler, explaining why a repair was never made. While no suit has been filed, she said her neighbor has not closed the claim against her insurance.
Rabasa said she can’t believe it’s come to this. Four years ago, she tripped on a sidewalk and cracked her ribs but did not report it.
“It was Halloween, I wasn’t looking at the sidewalk,” she said. “It never occurred to me to hold someone responsible. I thought it was just one of those things.”
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