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Sidewalk Construction, Maintenance, and Repair


This page focuses on the construction, repair and maintenance of sidewalks. For policies on pedestrian facilities, including design see MRSC webpages Pedestrian Facilities - Sidewalks and Crosswalks and Trails - Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities. A section on the Street Tree page, Street Trees, Sidewalks, and Utilities, covers sidewalk damage from tree roots. 

When a jurisdiction fails to keep its sidewalks in a reasonable state of repair, free of dangerous and unsafe conditions, the results can be costly in terms of injury claims. Many cities and towns have ordinances that impose the cost of sidewalk repair upon abutting property owners. If a sidewalk needs repair, the jurisdiction requests the abutting property owner to make the repair. If the repair is not made, the jurisdiction will make the repair and bill the property owner. While these ordinances provide a means to repair and maintain sidewalks, they do not relieve the jurisdiction from liability.

Statutory Authority for Sidewalk Construction

City and Town Sidewalk Statute Summary
Statute Ch. 35.68 RCW - Sidewalks, Gutters, Curbs, and Driveways -- All Cities and Towns Ch. 35.69 RCW - - Sidewalks -- Construction, Reconstruction in First and Second Class Cities Ch. 35.70 RCW - Sidewalks -- Construction in Second Class Cities and Towns
Applicability All cities or towns Code cities,1st and 2nd class cities, or charter cities of equal population Code cities or 2nd class cities and towns
Improvement Type Construct, reconstruct and repair sidewalks, curbs and gutters Sidewalk construction and reconstruction less than one block long Any form of sidewalk construction
Remarks City may require improvements to be made or accomplish them through contract City requires improvements to be made and, if not, then accomplishes them through contract City requires improvements to be made and, if not, then accomplishes them through contract

All three statutes refer to limitations in RCW 35.69.020:

  • An abutting property owner cannot be charged more than 50% of the valuation of the property, exclusive of improvements;
  • An abutting property owner cannot be charged if action by city caused deterioration or damage or if the deterioration or damage was caused by failure of the city to enforce its ordinances.

RCW 35A.47.020 - Streets -- Acquisition, standards of design, use, vacation and abandonment -- Funds (Authority of code city to use Chs. 35.68 through 35.79 RCW )

RCW 36.75.240 - Sidewalks and pedestrian paths or walks -- Bicycle paths, lanes, routes, and roadways -- Standards

Jurisdictions must comply with the requirements of Chs. 35.68 through 35.70 RCW. However, the jurisdiction may not transfer liability for damages caused by defective sidewalks to abutting landowners, regardless of fault (Rivett v. Tacoma, 123 Wn.2d 573 (1994)).

Liability (Rivett v. Tacoma, 123 Wn.2d 573 (1994))

In the Rivett v. Tacoma decision, the state supreme court invalidated Tacoma ordinance provisions that imposed liability upon abutting property owners for damages caused by defective sidewalks, regardless of fault. Tacoma's ordinance was not based upon the statutory provisions of Chs. 35.68 through 35.70 RCW. It was based upon the city's authority as a first class city to regulate public rights-of-way, including sidewalks, and upon its nuisance authority.

If your jurisdiction has a provision that imposes liability upon property owners for injuries caused by sidewalk conditions, particularly where there is no requirement of a finding that the property owner caused the hazardous sidewalk conditions, it is advisable to remove that provision. If you have questions about the validity of your sidewalk ordinance in light of Rivett, we suggest you contact legal counsel.

  • Sidewalks After Rivett: A Discussion of Tort Liability, Preventive Ordinances and Other Strategies, by Milton G. Rowland, Assistant City Attorney of Spokane. MRSC Library Loan

Local Government Provisions

  • Clark County Code Ch. 12.26 - Sidewalk Maintenance and Repair
  • Cheney Municipal Code Ch. 12.20 - Construction of Curbs and Sidewalks
  • Duvall Municipal Code Ch. 8.02 - Sidewalk Repair and Maintenance
  • Edmonds City Code Ch. 9.20 - Sidewalk Construction and Maintenance
  • Kirkland Municipal Code Ch. 19.20 - Sidewalks, Curbs and Gutters— Construction and Maintenance
  • Longview Municipal Code Ch. 12.28 - Sidewalk Construction, Maintenance and Repair
  • Puyallup Municipal Code Ch. 11.20 - Sidewalk Construction and Reconstruction
  • Seattle Sidewalk Maintenance and Repair SDOT Client Assistance Memo 2208, 01/2010
  • Snohomish Municipal Code Ch. 12.20 - Sidewalk Maintenance and Repair
  • Tacoma
    • Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 10.18 - Sidewalks – Construction, Reconstruction and Repair
    • Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 10.20 - Sidewalks – Repairs Pursuant to Agreement

Sidewalk Programs - Citizen Information

For Sidewalk Programs including planning and ADA compliance, see MRSC's Pedestrian Facilities - Sidewalks and Crosswalks page

Additional References

Last Modified: May 11, 2016