Contracts for snow & ice management services take on very different forms across the industry. At one extreme is the simple one-page agreement; at the opposite extreme is an extensive contract containing every imaginable clause and condition. We see this variation in contracts written by both contractors and property owners/management firms.
When reviewing your own contract for snow and ice services, there are some important “scope of work” areas to focus on that I would like to highlight in this article. But keep in mind that contract terms are often negotiable. (This is not always true.) But there is never any harm in attempting to negotiate unfair contract terms before accepting them, or walking away, based on the assumption that they are not negotiable.
To begin with, the scope-of-work section should be accurate and detailed. Make every effort to address potential areas of conflict or disagreement. Clarify with specificity the areas that otherwise may be ambiguous. Consider the following questions (not all will apply to every property, but some may):
Are you responsible for dumpster enclosures, cart corrals, gated areas, loading docks, awnings, canopies, or anything else unique to the property? If there is a car in the parking lot, how close to the car will you plow? Will you plow between parked vehicles? Are you clearing the snow between the sidewalk and the parking stops? Are you responsible for returning to the property to clear drifting snow hours, or days, after the snow event has ended? Are you responsible for returning to the property to clear snow from a driveway or access road that has been blocked by a municipal snowplow? Are you responsible for public sidewalks? These are examples of details that should be clarified in your scope of work section.
It is also important to clarify expectations for anti-icing and de-icing in this section. Does the contractor have unrestricted decision-making authority? If not, what restrictions apply and how is liability redistributed? Clarify expectations for both pre-storm and post-storm applications. Specify any requirements for type of material, timing of applications, etc. The goal here, and throughout the scope of work section, is to avoid surprises during the season.
Many snow and ice management contracts still contain a trigger depth, which implies that the scope of work is something less than zero tolerance. In a zero-tolerance contract, the contractor has discretion to do whatever is needed, based on the weather and time of day. As such, the inclusion of a trigger depth is inconsistent and confusing.
Another consideration is surrounding the expectations for inspecting the property between storms for refreeze, and any action to be taken if needed. Be sure to address this in your scope of work and pricing.
Still another consideration is the location of where the snow should be pushed. An industry best practice today is to designate these snow pile locations on a map, and have the customer approve the locations. This is easily done in cloud-based software programs such as snowbidder.com – a free website for professional snow contractors.
Snow pile locations will vary based on the property. Whenever possible, it is best to leave snow piled in designated areas on top of paved areas, taking into consideration the location of drains. Due to the potential for damage to landscaped areas and contamination of ground water, plowing snow or piling snow on landscape or turf areas should only be considered if no other options exist. Melting snow piles should drain into a system that is designed to collect and process runoff in a way that is environmentally sound.
Moving snow great distances on properties, relocating snow, or hauling snow off the property is generally not part of basic snow plowing. Instead, these are value-added services, requiring specialized equipment, and pricing. Be sure to clarify the expectations for these additional activities in your scope of work section.
Finally, it is important not refer to “bare pavement” or snow “removal” in your scope of work section, unless you mean what you say. While your customer may hope that you will catch every snowflake falling out of the sky, this is not generally possible. Your contract should not imply that it is.
A clear and accurate scope-of-work section may result in a longer contract, but it may also result in a better relationship with your customer.