“Exploring Sidewalks are Public Property: Ownership, Maintenance, and Legal Considerations”

Sidewalks are more than just paths for pedestrians. They are essential elements of the built environment that affect the health, sustainability, and livability of communities. However, who owns the sidewalks and who is responsible for their maintenance and safety is not always clear. In this blog, I will explore the concept of public property and how it applies to sidewalks. I will also discuss the legal aspects of sidewalk ownership and the potential consequences for negligence. By understanding the ownership of sidewalks, we can better appreciate their importance and take action to ensure their quality and accessibility for everyone.

What is public property?

Public property is a term that refers to property that is owned by the government or its agencies, divisions, or entities. It includes parks, playgrounds, streets, sidewalks, schools, libraries, and other assets that belong to the general public and not to a private owner. Public property is dedicated to public use and belongs to the public at large. In contrast, private property is owned by an individual or artificial entities that represent the financial interests of persons, such as corporations. Private property is protected from being taken for public uses and is highly prized in capitalist societies.

Public property can be classified into different types according to its purpose and function. Some examples of public property are:

  • Common property: This is property that is shared by a group of people who have equal rights to use it, such as water resources, fisheries, forests, and grazing lands. Common property is usually managed by a collective agreement or a customary law that regulates access and use.
  • State property: This is property that is owned and controlled by the state or its agents, such as the military, the police, or the bureaucracy. State property is used for public services and administration, such as roads, bridges, hospitals, prisons, and courts.
  • Public domain: This is property that is not owned by anyone and is free for anyone to use, such as the air, the sea, and outer space. Public domain also refers to intellectual property that has expired or been forfeited, such as works of art, literature, music, and inventions that are no longer protected by copyright or patent laws.
  • Public goods: These are goods or services that are provided by the government or a public authority for the benefit of all members of society, such as national defense, public health, education, and environmental protection. Public goods are non-excludable and non-rivalries, meaning that no one can be prevented from using them and their use by one person does not diminish their availability for others.

However, sidewalk ownership also entails some risks and challenges. Sidewalks may be subject to damage, deterioration, or obstruction due to natural or human causes. Sidewalks may also be subject to disputes, conflicts, or lawsuits due to negligence, liability, or violation of regulations.

Who is responsible for maintaining sidewalks?

The answer to this question may vary depending on the location and the local laws and regulations. However, generally speaking, the responsibility for maintaining sidewalks is shared between the city or town that owns them and the property owners that adjoin them.

Part of the public right-of-way, sidewalks are considered to facilitate access to utilities and serve as a safety buffer between the street and private properties. While the city or town that owns the sidewalks does not always maintain them, in some cases, the responsibility for tasks like snow removal, ice clearance, crack repairs, or debris removal falls upon the adjoining property owners.

The ownership and maintenance of sidewalks can vary based on local ordinances and regulations. Some cities may require property owners to bear the costs of installation, repair, or replacement, while others may share or cover these expenses entirely. The enforcement of sidewalk conditions also differs, with some cities conducting inspections and others relying on resident complaints. Cities may have specific standards and guidelines for sidewalk construction and maintenance or more flexible rules.

Therefore, there is no definitive answer to who is responsible for maintaining sidewalks. It depends on where you live and what are the rules and regulations in your area. However, it is important for both pedestrians and property owners to stay informed about their rights and responsibilities regarding sidewalks. It is also important for them to take necessary actions to ensure sidewalk safety and quality. By doing so, they can contribute to the health, sustainability, and livability of their communities.

See Also-Are social security offices open for walk-ins, Updated June 2023

Legal aspects of sidewalk ownership or Liability for accidents on sidewalks

The responsibility for sidewalks and the liability in sidewalk accidents can vary depending on local ordinances and regulations. Cities may have different rules regarding who is responsible for the installation, repair, or replacement of sidewalks. Some cities may require property owners to bear the costs, while others may share or cover the expenses entirely. The enforcement of sidewalk conditions also varies, with some cities conducting inspections and others relying on resident complaints.

In terms of liability for sidewalk accidents, several factors come into play.If a defect or hazard on a sidewalk that was caused or known about by the city or property owner but not addressed or warned about injures a pedestrian, any damages may be held liable for by them. However, if the accident is contributed to by the pedestrian’s own carelessness or recklessness, such as being distracted, intoxicated, or wearing inappropriate footwear, they may not be eligible for compensation.

It’s important for individuals to be aware of their local laws and regulations regarding sidewalk maintenance and to take appropriate precautions to prevent accidents. Likewise, cities and property owners should fulfill their responsibilities in maintaining safe sidewalks to minimize the risk of accidents and potential liability. Consulting legal professionals or local authorities can provide further guidance and clarification on specific cases and local regulations.

Some Frequently Asked Questions on Various Online Platforms Like Google, Quora, Reddit and others

Why is it the home owners responsibility to maintain public sidewalks in Portland?

In Portland, property owners are responsible for maintaining public sidewalks according to the Portland City Code.
Property owners must maintain hazard-free sidewalks, ensuring the safety of pedestrians and individuals using wheelchairs. Property owners may face liability for injuries or damages caused by defects in adjacent sidewalks, curbs, driveways, or parking strips. This practice of making property owners responsible for sidewalk maintenance is common in many other cities as well.

If I don’t own the sidewalk in front of my house, why am I responsible for it?

Homeowners must maintain their sidewalk as it is part of the public right of way and falls under their responsibility. Property owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalk’s good condition and safety, despite the city owning the land. Neglecting sidewalk maintenance can lead to liability for injuries or damages caused by its defective condition. This practice of property owners maintaining sidewalks is common in many places to ensure their accessibility and safety.


Sidewalks are important public property that enhances pedestrian access and community well-being. Ownership and maintenance responsibilities vary depending on local regulations. Property owners and municipalities may share the responsibility, with costs and enforcement varying. Understanding ownership is crucial for addressing legal issues and ensuring sidewalk safety. Collaboration between authorities, property owners, and pedestrians is vital. Valuing and maintaining sidewalks as public assets creates inclusive and vibrant communities.


Is the sidewalk next to your house your property?

City street sidewalks are public property, included in the city’s right of way, encompassing the land beside the road. In some municipalities, this ownership may extend beyond the sidewalk itself.

Are sidewalks next to schools public property?

Sidewalks next to schools are generally public property as part of the city or county’s right of way. However, some schools may have private sidewalks on their own land. These public sidewalks near schools are subject to safety and accessibility standards, including width, buffer zone, and curb ramp requirements.

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