skip navigation

Sidewalk Construction, Maintenance, and Repair

This page provides a basic overview of sidewalk construction, repair, and maintenance for local governments in Washington State, including relevant statutes, liability information, and examples of local ordinances.


Overview

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.


Statutes

Jurisdictions must comply with the requirements of chapters 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, see below for discussion).

  • Chapter 35.68 RCW – Sidewalks, Curbs, Gutters, and Driveways--All Cities and Towns
  • Chapter 35.69 RCW – Sidewalks--Construction, Reconstruction in First and Second-Class Cities
  • Chapter 35.70 RCW – Sidewalks--Construction in Second-Class Cities and Towns
  • RCW 35.69.020 – Cited by all three chapters; abutting property owner cannot be charged more than 50% of the property value, exclusive of improvements, for sidewalk construction or reconstruction. Property owner may not be charged any costs 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 – Applies chapters to code cities
  • RCW 36.75.240 – Authorizes counties to use expenditures from road fund for construction of sidewalks, bicycle paths, etc.

Liability

In the Rivett v. Tacoma decision (123 Wn.2d 573 (1994)), 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 chapters 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.


Clearing Snow and Ice from Sidewalks

For information on clearing snow and ice from sidewalks, including local examples, see our page Snow and Ice Removal Policies.


Damage from Tree Roots

For useful resources regarding street trees and sidewalk damage, see our page Urban Forestry and Street Trees.


Examples of Local Sidewalk Ordinances


Examples of Local Sidewalk Repair Programs


Recommended Resources


Last Modified: October 16, 2019