Sidewalk Repairs in New Jersey – Who gets the bill?

Cracked sidewalks on Nassau St. in Princeton

Cracked sidewalks on Nassau St. in Princeton

Sidewalk Repairs are in the news.

Sidewalks, or more specifically defective sidewalks, have been in the news in New Jersey lately — raising the issues of “What rules dictate where sidewalks are installed, who is responsible for making sidewalk repairs and how do New Jersey municipalities and property owners share the cost of sidewalk repairs?”

Towns making news about sidewalk repairs

In its July 22, 2012 article “Amid slippery laws, towns take a stand on sidewalk repairs”, the Star Ledger reported about a program in Highland Park, NJ to require homeowners to repair defective walkways in front of their lots. Judging by the comments on, the residents are incensed about being required to fix defective sidewalks.


Scott Luthman, Highland Parks’s Construction Official, advised that approximately 1200 notices have been issued to repair cracked, settled, heaved or otherwise deteriorated sidewalks throughout the 1.9 square mile borough. This initiative was sparked by complaints from local residents, many of whom walk to worship services. According to Mr. Luthman, Highland Park offers to contract for the repairs and to bill the property owner for the actual costs incurred by the borough. Payments may be made over a five year period with a modest rate of interest applied to the bill. Commercial and residential property owners are treated alike. If the property owner chooses to select a contractor, the borough will provide a tree expert to alter street trees that are raising sidewalk slabs. So far, most residents are quietly conforming to the policy – there are, however about 15 to 20 property owners that are very unhappy and vocal.


A similar tale is unfolding in Ridgewood where the Village has issued 160 notices to residents requiring them to repair sidewalks within 45 days.  Much of the damage in Ridgewood is caused by trees planted in the grass strip between the curb and sidewalk.  The property owners are being held accountable for repairing the sidewalks despite the fact that neither the trees or the sidewalk are on their property. Waldwick allows residents until the end of the year to make repairs and will consider giving extensions of time due to financial hardship.

How some other municipalities approach sidewalk repair financing.

Having been the Municipal Engineer for the Borough of Princeton for over twenty years, I understand the intensity of feeling often generated by requests of the municipality to have sidewalks repaired – or even worse installed where none existed before. The Princeton Borough Code also requires adjacent property owners to construct and maintain the sidewalks within the public right of way in front of their premises — including the removal of snow and ice.

In the mid 1980’s, the Borough of Princeton developed a program that required the evaluation of all sidewalks within the limits of road construction and overlay projects. Repair of defective sidewalks was included in the scope of the borough’s capital projects. Property owners that elected to have their sidewalks replaced by the municipal contractor were assessed at 50% of the cost of the improvement, payable over a 5 – 10 year period. Persons opting to perform the work on their own were not offered a subsidy.

Sidewalk raised by street treee

Sidewalk Raised by Street Tree on Spruce St. in Princeton

Princeton Borough Engineer, Jack West reports that his office is currently administering an annual sidewalk repair program valued at over $120,000. This year’s program is primarily for the repair of walks damaged by municipal shade trees, These repairs are made at no cost to the adjacent property owner. Mr. West noted that the municipal ordinance allows his office to issue violation notices to property owners but only does so if a complaint initiated investigation reveals that the condition is very unsafe. Otherwise, repairs are made in conjunction with the borough’s capital road improvement program.

Princeton Township Engineer, Robert Kiser reported a similar policy of assessing homeowners for 50% of sidewalk repair costs as part of a capital road project. The township does not assume the entire cost for repair of walks disturbed by street trees but does bear the cost of handicap accessibility improvements such as curb ramps and detectable warning strips.

In nearby Lawrence Township, Municipal Engineer, James Parvese reported that property owners are given the opportunity to have their sidewalks replaced as part of a municipal project and make payments over time but are billed for 100% of the repair cost.

According to Robert Vogel, Municipal Engineer, Madison Borough maintains the sidewalks in the Central Business District through a maintenance agreement with the New Jersey Department of Transportation for the sidewalk area on Route 124. Generally, Madison holds property owners responsible for sidewalk repairs but provides a 25% incentive when the work is performed as part of a municipal project, which they run every year. There is no charge for damage caused by a municipal shade tree or improvements made to remove barriers for the disabled.

Freehold Township takes yet another approach. Township Engineer, Tim White outlined a novel incentive program which allows homeowners – not commercial properties – to request a 50% rebate from the township for sidewalk repairs they have performed by a contractor. Under this program, property owners must make application to the township prior to starting the work. The Township Engineer then inspects the property to determine if the repairs are necessary and that the damage has not been caused by the property owner’s negligence (such as allowing heavy equipment to pass over the sidewalk). To qualify for the reimbursement, the property owner must obtain a road opening permit, post a bond, have the work inspected and provide copies of the concrete delivery ticket and the contractor’s invoice. The town will then provide a 50% reimbursement up to a cost of $7/ sf for 4” thick walk and $9 / sf for 6” thick walk. Currently, an annual budget of approximately $25,000 is provided for this program.

“Home Rule” prevails – one size doesn’t fit all in New Jersey.

Policies in other municipalities range from:  requiring property owners to make repairs based upon the results of housing or continued certificate of occupancy inspections to just not doing anything about sidewalks because they are the property owners problem. The most prevalent policy seems to be to direct the property owner to make the repair or have the municipality contract for the work and assess the owner for 100% of the cost.

I’d like to know how this problem is addressed in your community. Please leave a comment.

Of course this is just the opening salvo in a discussion about sidewalks in New Jersey. In the near future I plan to discuss matters such as:

  • How did sidewalk installation and maintenance policies evolve in New Jersey?
  • What regulations define where sidewalks are to be built and the standards of construction.
  • Who’s liable for an injury occurring on the sidewalk in front of your property? – Does the answer to this question change if the property is residential, commercial, or non-profit?
  • Do the sidewalk requirements in the NJ Residential Site Improvement Standards (RSIS) conform to those in the Public Rights of Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG)?
  • Will municipalities eliminate sidewalk repair subsidies in response to the 2% State mandated budget caps?

And, a bit more.

I’d like to know how this problem is addressed in your community. Please leave a comment.


[poll id=”6″]


The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC