Property Owners' Responsibilities

Private Property and Public Right of Way

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.


Photo of sidewalkProperty 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.

Check out our Seattle Sidewalk Accessibility Guide, the go-to page for understanding our sidewalks and how to help make Seattle a safer, more accessible city.


Property owners are responsible for providing a temporary or permanent driveway so that vehicles do not drive over sidewalks, planting strips or curbs. The construction of driveways requires a Street Use Permit, issued by the Dept. of Construction and Inspections.

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

Photo of alley

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 684-5283.

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

Street trees planted by the City will be maintained by the City. All other trees are to be maintained to approved arbocultural 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 DCI 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-TREE (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 DCI 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-TREE (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).

Side Sewers

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 DCI Permit Counter.


Greg Spotts, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 3800, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA, 98124-4996
Phone: (206) 684-7623

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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is on a mission to deliver a transportation system that provides safe and affordable access to places and opportunities for everyone as we work to achieve our vision of Seattle as a thriving, equitable community powered by dependable transportation.