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.
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.
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 (1994), see below for discussion).
- Ch. 35.68 RCW – Sidewalks, Curbs, Gutters, 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
- 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.
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.
- Sidewalks After Rivett: A Discussion of Tort Liability, Preventive Ordinances and Other Strategies, by Milton G. Rowland, Assistant City Attorney of Spokane.
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
- Cheney Municipal Code Ch. 12.20 – Construction of Curbs and Sidewalks
- Clark County Code Ch. 12.26 – Sidewalk Maintenance and Repair
- 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 (2017) – SDOT Client Assistance Memo 2208
- Snohomish Municipal Code Ch. 12.20 – Sidewalk Maintenance and Repair
- Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 10.18 (Construction, Reconstruction and Repair) and Ch. 10.20 (Sidewalks – Repairs Pursuant to Agreement)
Examples of Local Sidewalk Repair Programs
- Longview Sidewalk Repair Program
- Mount Vernon Sidewalks – Property owners can have city replace sidewalks, provided they pay for material costs. Includes resolution, policy, and educational brochure
- Richland Citywide Transportation Plan – See Chapter 5, Pedestrian Plan
- Olympia Sidewalks – Includes property owners' guide to sidewalk repair, sidewalk standard drawings, and information on constructing and maintaining sidewalks
- Seattle Sidewalk Development Program – Shows current and completed sidewalk projects, funded by a voter-approved levy; discusses more informal "walkways" as cost-effective alternatives to traditional curb-and-gutter sidewalks
- Tacoma Sidewalks – Includes FAQs on sidewalk issues
- WSDOT: Designing for Pedestrians – Includes links to relevant design guidelines