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Clearing snow – all you need to know about winter duty in Germany

Hooray, the first snow has fallen!

One of my last blogposts was about the obligation to have winter tires on your car when it snows.

Schneeschaufel rot

For many people in Germany, the downside of the snowfall is that it comes with the 'Räumpflicht', i.e. the clearing obligation.

That means, you have to make sure that the sidewalk is not dangerous to walk on because of snow or ice.

Who is responsible for clearing the snow?

In the first place, cities and municipalities are responsible for ensuring that the streets and sidewalks are safe.

But they can (and usually do) delegate the winter duty to the homeowners who must then then ensure that the sidewalk in front of their house is cleared of snow and ice and that it is also gritted if necessary.

If a landlord doesn't want to shovel snow himself, he has two options:

  1. The landlord can transfer this obligation to the tenants. However, this must be expressly regulated in the rental agreement. If there are several apartments in the house, the tenants might have to take turns.

  2. The landlord can hire a caretaker service. This is more convenient for the tenants - but the landlord can distribute the cost among the tenants.

Mann schippt Schnee

When do I have to clear the snow?

The idea is: the sidewalk should be safe when people normally walk there.

So, you must always make sure that the sidewalk is not slippery and dangerous – not only because of snow, but also because of leaves or ice.

The municipality will have specified the exact time during which you must keep snow cleared away in a statute (‘Satzung’).

In most communities, the sidewalks must be cleared between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. - in some, however, as early as 6 a.m.!

On Sundays and public holidays you may sleep a little longer.

So, you don't need to go outside to shovel snow.

If it snows so heavily during the day that the sidewalk would be covered again after a few minutes, you don't have to stand outside all day long, shovelling snow.

In that case it will be sufficient to clear the snow immediately (!) as soon as it has stopped snowing.

If it snowing with interruptions throughout the day, you will have to shovel away the snow several times.

Do I have to clear the entire sidewalk?

The cleared area on the sidewalk must have a minimum width so that two people can comfortably walk past each other.

It should therefore be about 1.50 m wide.

If there are several apartments in one house, the paths to the underground car park, to, the garbage cans and the mailboxes ecc. must also be cleared.

And of course, there must always be a safe path towards the house so that e.g., postmen or parcel carriers can get there safely.

What do I do with the snow that I have shovelled?

Lots of people just push the snow onto the road. You'll finish faster and create plenty of space on the sidewalk. Sounds good, doesn't it?


Unfortunately, this is not permitted. It is important that gutters, gullies and cycle paths remain free.

Instead, you should pile the snow next to the road (i.e., on the sidewalk) or in a safe corner. This means that pedestrians and cyclists can continue to make good use of all routes.

What if I’m sick or on vacation?

If you cannot shovel the now yourself, you have to find someone who will do it for you.

Maybe you can ask a neighbour or friend to do it - or pay someone to take care of it professionally, such as a janitorial service.

If you fail to follow the regulations for snow and ice removal, the community can impose a fine of 500 € or more!

What should I do when it's slippery?

Whenever it gets slippery, you need to take action immediately and put grit on the sidewalk.

Even after shovelling the snow, there will often be hard layers of snow remaining on the sidewalk, which can become slippery and should therefore be gritted.

If black ice is expected to form overnight, you must grit it in the evening.

What should I use for gritting?

It is best to use granite (Splitt), sand (fine gravel) or grit.

Road salt is usually banned by the communities because it is very harmful to the environment.

As an exception, road salt might be used in particularly dangerous places such as stairs or on a very steep path.

And also in case of black ice, some municipalities allow road salt to be used.

If you use road salt even though it is not permitted, you may have to pay a fine of between € 500 and € 10,000.

Do I have to secure the roof?

Another thing to consider in winter:

Could there be any icicles or avalanches falling on pedestrians from my roof?

Then the roof must also be secured.

What if someone falls on the sidewalk?

If someone falls on the sidewalk because it is not secured, it could leave you liable for damages (Schadensersatz) , compensation (Schmerzensgeld) and / or a fine (Bußgeld).

That can be very expensive!

Unfortunately, it might not always be possible to prevent an accident. Therefore it is important to have personal liability insurance – and check that it covers any possible winter liabilities.

Of course: pedestrians also have to be careful and wear suitable shoes, for example. Otherwise, they may not receive full compensation.


It is really important for you to find out:

  • if you are obliged to clear away the snow (check your rental agreement)

  • And if yes: What this means for you: where and when do you need to clear the snow?

  • Make sure your insurance policy covers any possible winter liabillities

Be prepared:

Have a snow shovel and a bucket full of grit ready when the first snow arrives.

I wish you a cheerful winter and lots of fun in the snow!


Would you like to practice your German?

For free German lessons, follow me on Instagram: @deutsch.charlingua


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