Private Property and Public Right of Way
A Property Owner's Responsibility
Streets and sidewalks are for everyone's use. They add value to private property by providing access to the property and a way to get to other places in the city.
When property is developed, property owners dedicate part of the land as "public right-of-way" for streets, sidewalks, utilities and similar public uses.
What some property owners do not realize is that they are responsible for maintaining part of the right-of-way next to their property, including the sidewalk and planting strip, or the roadway shoulder if unimproved. Property owners are also responsible for maintaining unpaved alleys next to their property.
Property owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks adjacent to their property. They must make sure snow and ice does not pose a hazard to pedestrians. They must also repair cracks and other damage.
If a property owner installs a new concrete sidewalk, the owner or the contractor must obtain a Street Use Permit to make sure the walkway meets the City's current standards, including wheelchair ramps at street corners and proper drainage of the street area.
Property owners are responsible for providing a temporary or permanent driveway so that vehicles do not drive over sidewalks, planting strips, or curbs. Installing a new driveway or moving an existing driveway is permitted through a two-step process:
- A driveway Curb Cut permit is issued by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD). Permit fees must be paid at the time of obtaining the DPD permit.
- A Construction Permit is issued by Street Use at the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). This is a required companion permit to the DPD permit and does not incur fees unless additional construction is occurring.
Streets and Alleys
SDOT maintains roadways that are open for travel. The department maintains them to the level they have been improved. The department does not maintain areas that were dedicated for streets, but were never improved and opened for travel. Property owners are responsible for any unopened street areas next to their property.
Property owners also maintain unpaved or unopened alleys, and alleys not paved to City standards. SDOT performs no preventative maintenance on alleys. The department responds to requests for spot repairs on a case by case basis after evaluating necessity for the repair for public safety and for public access.
The City oversees all public rights-of-way and may close any of these areas that become unsafe.
Most improvements to streets and alleys, such as upgrading or paving surfaces, planting street trees, or installing sidewalks, are accomplished by:
Private contract with private funding;
Street Use Permit with private funding and privately maintained;
Safe Use of Street Areas
Construction in, on, under or above a street area requires a Street Use Permit. A street area includes sidewalks, alleys, triangles and planting strips. Examples of construction which affect street right-of-way areas are signs, flag poles, awnings, rockeries, steps, clocks, driveways, and street trees. Use of street areas for other activities such as block parties and sidewalk cafes also requires a Street Use Permit. For more information call 684-5253.
Barriers between Sidewalks and Off-Street Parking
To protect the safety of pedestrians, City-approved barriers must be installed to separate off-street parking from sidewalks. Barriers such as fences and curbs prevent vehicles from encroaching into pedestrian walkways.
Street trees planted by the City will be maintained by the City. All other trees are to be maintained to approved arboricultural standards by the abutting property owner.
In most cases, trees interfering with vehicle visibility must be trimmed by the property owner. All trees must be maintained to provide 8 feet of clearance above sidewalks and 14 feet above roadways. Contact Seattle City Light at 386-1663 if tree limbs are near power lines or street lighting. City Light will determine if the tree needs to be pruned.
Complaints about tree overgrowth on private property should be reported to DPD at 684-7899. Tree planting, pruning and tree removal in public rights-of-way requires a Street Use permit. Contact the City Arborist at 684-8733 for more information.
Weeds, Debris and Garbage
To protect the health and safety of the public, it is important to keep streets, alleys and sidewalks free of obstructions, litter, and other material.
Property owners must trim or remove overhanging trees, plants, shrubs, vegetation or debris which obstruct streets, alleys or sidewalks, or which are a fire hazard. Contact DPD at 684-7899. Pruning or removal of trees from street right-of-way areas requires a Street Use Permit. Contact the City Arborist's Office at 684-8733.
Property owners must also prevent rubbish, garbage or waste material from accumulating on their property, sidewalks, or planting strips, regardless of who put the material there. To report illegal dumping, call the Seattle Public Utilities Illegal Dumping Hotline at 684-PKUP (684-7587).
Property owners construct and repair their own side sewers and drainage pipes, under the regulations of the Side Sewer Code. Construction and repair of side sewers within a public street area must be performed by a registered Side Sewer Contractor. Permits for construction and repair are required, and are issued at the DPD Permit Counter, on the 20th floor of Key Tower, 700 5th Avenue.
More Info and Phone Numbers
General information about streets or traffic - 684-ROAD (7623)
Permit information for work on private property - 684-8850
Permit information for street areas - 684-5253
Permit information regarding side sewer construction (DPD's Drainage and Sewer Review desk) - 684-5362
Permit to install concrete driveway - 684-8850
General drainage and waste water info for north of Denny Way - 684-4203
General drainage and waste water info for south of Denny Way - 386-1008
Drainage or sewer emergencies or to report flooding or back-ups - 386-1800
Tree overgrowth on private property -684-7899
Street Trees - 684-8733
Illegal Dumping Hotline - 684-7587
For TTY devices - 684-4009
Reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities will be provided upon request.
For other questions, call the Street Use Counter at 206-684-5253.