While the City of Tallinn is well within its right to fine property owners who have not properly cleared adjacent sidewalks of snow and ice, this has not, so far, happened this winter. However, the principle also extends to commercial contractors tasked with maintaining the capital streets, and these firms have been fined just over one percent of their contractual fee, so far.
In Estonia, keeping sidewalks which run past a residential building is the responsibility of that household, regardless of its size, to keep safe and passable by clearing it of snow and ice. The same applies to commercial and other property owners.
This has on the whole been done so far this winter, at least in Tallinn, Tarmo Sule, deputy head of the city's environmental and public utilities department, told ERR:
He said: "Since property owners have been responding to notifications [of non-compliance] and, by the time of follow-up inspections, the sidewalks have been dealt with, or the weather conditions have changed - for instance, new snow has fallen or is falling at the point of inspection - no fine or fee has been levied on any property owners."
Tallinn Municipal Police (Mupo) officers have received more than 200 calls over the winter relating to unattended sidewalks, Sulg said, adding that its personnel regularly inspect problem areas. Should violations be identified, the property owner is contacted with an instruction to rectify this as soon as possible.
Walkways which are not maintained represent an abnormal situation and constant work is being done to avoid them arising, Sulg said, though was unable to apportion responsibility without being asked about a specific location.
"Please note that about half of the city's sidewalks consist of those that need to be maintained by the property owner, and we have also disseminated this maintenance obligation to them through various media."
These total as precise an area as 1,228,769 sq m, Sulg added, compared with 1,577,646 sq m which are the responsibility of city contractors.
More fines have been issued to firms tasked with keeping public streets and sidewalks clean, than last year, he went on, with fines up to now totaling €314,579 due to a failure to adequately maintain public transport stops, pedestrian crossings and cycle lanes, as well as sidewalks.
"Contractual penalties make up 1.26 per cent of the annual fee, though it must be taken into account that this includes not only winter maintenance, but year-round maintenance," Sulg added.
The total is around double last year's figure, though contracts have been renewed and penalty sums raised since then, he said.
The time required to maintain sidewalks etc., which is done between the hours of 6.00 a.m. and 10.00 p.m., has also been halved, from eight hours in a day to four hours.
Feedback from the public was also welcome at all times, he added.
State: The city is responsible for the maintenance of the streets
While the division of responsibility for sidewalk maintenance is divided between property owner and local government, the latter should be responsible for oversight, both the Chancellor of Justice's office and the Commissioner for Equal rights find.
Helle Ruusing, a spokesperson for the equality commissioner, told ERR it was: "The responsibility of the local government to ensure the upkeep of sidewalks, which approves the maintenance requirements for property owners and monitors their compliance."
Janar Filippov, a representative of the Chancellor of Justice, concurred, saying: "It follows from the Building Code that in the city, municipality and district, the owner of a plot of land adjacent to the road is obliged to arrange for the cleaning of the sidewalk between the roadway and their property, including during times of snow and slippery conditions, and at a level that allows the sidewalk to be navigated safely."
"It is the responsibility of local government to ensure this. If the sidewalk in question is owned by the state or is a private road designated for public use, the responsibility for maintenance lies with the public authorities," Filippov added.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots