The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting a lot of people in ways nobody thought of before. For example, imagine being a homeowner out of work after your company shut down. You are trying to tighten your belt and save every penny possible. You are stunned when you receive a letter from the city telling you that you have only 20 days to fix a sinking sidewalk in front of your house.
As strange as it sounds, the scenario described here is not fictional. Residents in Omaha, Nebraska began receiving notices from the city in late March. Some 21 homeowners in one particular section of the city were given notices. One resident claimed that repairs would cost just over $1,000 while another received a price closer to $1,150.
Notices were issued because the sinking sidewalks present a tripping hazard. None of the homeowners seem to be denying that a hazard exists. But many of them are saying they just don’t have the money right now to facilitate repairs. So where does that leave them with the city?
Is Repair a Priority?
News reports out of Omaha do not explain where cited residents got their estimates from. They also don’t explain if the estimates are for complete concrete replacement or a slab repair system that jacks up sinking concrete by injecting a durable filler substance underneath. At any rate, is sidewalk repair really a priority right now?
The Concrete Raising Company of Salt Lake City, Utah says that the filler system tends to be less expensive and more efficient than total concrete replacement. What it could take a replacement crew days to complete can be done in mere minutes by filler support. Perhaps that is an option for some of the disaffected homeowners.
At any rate, it seems like now is not the right time to be sending city residents notices. With most of the country shut down at this point, consumers are doing their best to save wherever they can. Furthermore, we are all having to consider the possibility that the country might not go back to work for several more months. It seems like sidewalk slab repair could wait.
Who Owns the Sidewalks?
The situation in Omaha raises another legitimate question: who owns the sidewalks? We don’t know what the law states in Omaha or any other city. However, it is well known that some cities take responsibility for any sidewalks that run between the private boundary of a property line and the right-of-way in front.
If a city pours a sidewalk as part of a municipal improvement project, should the city also be responsible for maintaining it? Likewise if you’re talking about a situation in which a homeowner is not allowed to remove a sidewalk he doesn’t wish to maintain. If sidewalks are mandatory and municipal authorities install them, it stands to reason that they should also be responsible for maintenance.
It wouldn’t be surprising to have this question raised in Omaha once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. In the meantime, homeowners are still left with having to decide how to fix their problem sidewalks. Some of them are being forced to come up with thousands that they really don’t have to spend right now.
COVID-19 certainly has upended life as we know it. It has kept most of us home for at least a month; it has put millions out of work. And now, it has shined the light on sinking sidewalks that present a tripping hazard. Those sinking sidewalks are just another thing to contend with among residents served notice by their cities.