Construction activities usually disrupt a neighbourhood’s peace and quiet. Add traffic congestion and very noisy and large equipment to the mix and soon enough the annoyances are endless. For any decent neighbours, the last thing the renovating homeowner wants is to wreck someone’s home and have a Stop Work Order issued for six months that ruins schedule and blows budget, the last thing the neighbour wants is for his house to collapse. Unfortunately, this is the reality in many situations. If your neighbours are remodelling their house, construction works could be the view from your window for quite a while, brace yourself: Your life may be disrupted and in the worst-case scenario, your property damaged.

Here are smart ways to Guard your rights, politely, when you find out that your neighbour is renovating;

  1. Talk with your neighbour

Communication is key! In an ideal world, anyone about to undertake construction would alert neighbours well in advance. If that doesn’t happen, contact the owner of the property yourself before work starts, find out exactly what type of construction is going on. Introduce yourself to the contractor and explain your concerns. All building plans are public record.  Keep informed of building plans: Read legal notices, letters from zoning and planning boards.

Property lines dispute

Compare your survey with your neighbour’s. If there’s more than a few centimetres difference on a common border and it will affect you adversely, ask your neighbour to share the cost of a new survey that includes both properties. It’s worth the cost because setback lines are measured from property lines; most homeowners value their privacy and views and don’t want neighbours’ houses to be any closer than need be. Also, trees, shrubs and fences often are on or near property lines. Don’t settle for ‘it’s just a small addition’….

  • Be involved from the get-go

Plans for major renovations are typically presented at community board meetings, giving neighbours an opportunity to weigh in with concerns or at least to find out more about the project. As a stakeholder, you should Know exactly what the building permit is for, attend board meetings and voice concerns, follow up with letters to boards and neighbours and Review architectural plans at the local building department.

Check for possible encroachment, any tree removal, blocked views or vulnerable areas. Know the zoning laws. Setbacks, height and building-mass specifications vary from zoning district to zoning district; Ask the building inspector which boards (planning, zoning, architectural review, historic preservation) need to approve his plans and attend the meetings with other neighbours. If a variance is needed, neighbours’ concerns and objections carry significant weight.

  • Do a preconstruction survey

It’s in the interests of both parties to document the conditions of adjacent buildings before construction begins. Videos and photos will show pre-existing cracks in the walls, or lack thereof. Conduct a pre-construction condition survey of your property using a structural engineer. To document the state of your home before work begins, professional photos should be taken, and everything should be recorded. This way, it will be clear to both parties if damage occurs from the construction. Additionally, Banner notes that it is in the interest of the homeowner doing construction to name you, the neighbour, as an additional insured on his policy. Otherwise, they could have personal liability to you. 

  • Get a written agreement

Property damage claims against construction contractors, prompted by construction operations, are common. One of the biggest generators of property claims for structures near construction sites is vibration damage. if damages are claimed, having well documented pre- and post-construction condition surveys, records of all of the work conducted, and any changes requested along the way, can be valuable. Once established, the responsibility of bearing the cost of repairs and rectifications would need to have been established prior to the incident, and documentation of such an agreement is key. Homeowners should try to get their neighbours to negotiate such agreements. Hiring a lawyer to draft this document may be worth the investment.

  • Address problems early

Report any problems that arise, including unsafe working conditions, precarious scaffolding or improper disposal of construction materials. Your complaint may result in an investigation by a building inspector, and possibly, a stop-work order or fines

i. Access

Read the parking ordinance so you know when and where parking is legal. Streets and driveways can’t be blocked; however, delivery trucks that can’t get on the building site will unload from the street. Alert the contractor beforehand as to the days and times you need immediate access to the street and be accommodating when you can; park nearby and wait patiently.

Workers need your permission to be on your property.

ii. Eyesores

Work with contractors before projects start, ensure there’s demarcated lay-down areas’ for materials.” Portable toilets and Dumpsters should be as far away from neighbours’ homes as possible and emptied when full.

iii. Unsafe environment

Make sure an orange safety fence surrounds the building site and hay bales are positioned to prevent mud, soil and rockslides onto your property or the street. Check for drainage problems resulting from changes in grading and paving formerly pebbled or unpaved surfaces.

Ask the contractor for prior notification of excavation and/or demolition times so pets and children are safe. Close windows and move outdoor furnishings and cars to a safe place. Be sure safety procedures for removal of lead paint and asbestos are followed and ask for a warning so you can close windows and keep children and pets indoors.

iv. Noise

Check the building code for days and hours that construction is permitted and plan accordingly. Schedule barbecues for Sunday, when construction isn’t permitted. Also, talk to the contractors before the job starts.

What are the first signs that something has gone wrong?
Often, the first thing someone would notice are signs that point toward foundational shifts, such a s small cracks in the wall, a door won’t close properly, the floor starts to slant. 

So, what should you do if you start to notice these structural shifts or other damage?
If you don’t have one already, this is the moment when you hire a structural engineer.

After noticing damage, you consult the pre-construction survey and determine that yes, this crack was indeed caused by the construction. Does the party doing the construction pay for the repairs? For future, you may be advised to install crack and vibration monitors.

The last, most-expensive and least-desirable resort is to Hire an attorney. Remember, be pleasant and accommodating whenever possible. You may be building next.


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