Roofers refuse snow-clearing contracts

Cold, tiring and dangerous - clearing city rooftops of snow and ice rates high on the 'rather you than me' scale of Swedish winter jobs, so it is perhaps not surprising that Stockholm is experiencing a shortage of qualified roofers.

But that is the problem facing the city’s property owners, who, following a court ruling last year, are finding it impossible to get roofing companies to sign caretaking agreements.

In January 2002 a 14 year old boy was hit on the head by a chunk of ice. He died of his injuries, leading to a fierce legal battle over who was ultimately responsible.

Last May, Sweden’s Supreme Court concluded that it was the responsibility of the roofing company which was contracted to clear the roof. Critically, the court found that an agreement meant not only that the roofing firm should clear the roof, but that it should also decide when the roof needed clearing.

“Never in our wildest fantasies could we have imagined that the roofer would be found liable in the Supreme Court,” said Thomas Dahlberg, ombudsman for the National Roofers Association, to Dagens Nyheter.

Dahlberg told DN that his organisation now advised firms not to sign seasonal agreements. That leaves the property owners ultimately responsible for any injuries caused by falling ice.

In turn, that means that city streets become like obstacle courses with barriers and warning signs steering pedestrians off the pavements every few metres. And if owners want their rooftops cleared, they have to join the queue.

According to DN, Stockholm council was taking up to 30 calls a day last week, but the current thaw means that number is increasing every hour.

Nevertheless, Christer Jansson, managing director of the Swedish Property Federation, says that the court verdict was correct.

“The roofers are professionals and best placed to decide whether you need to shovel away the snow or not. It becomes a problem when a profession with the right skills refuses to take responsibility,” he said.