Part 1: Suddenly Construction Looms
All of a sudden, you hear that a massive new house, renovation, or addition is scheduled to begin construction next door to your home.
Only it wasn’t “sudden.” You just weren’t paying attention.
• The owners may have been planning and saving for this since the day they moved in.
Have you chatted with neighbors on both sides over the years to keep up-to-date on what their plans are for their home?
• Architects and contractors need plans to work from and those plans must fit municipal standards and be approved by the planning department.
All that takes time. What stage are the neighbors at?
• The process usually involves notice to neighbors or a hearing or two if owners want to do more than current zoning bylaws and building codes allow.
Do you read notices you receive in the mail or from your neighborhood alert? How do you ensure you’re up-to-date with what’s going on around you?
• Obtaining a building permit to build or renovate may take weeks or more depending on how busy the offices are.
Will the building department or inspector back up safety issues regarding your home during demolition and excavation?
One day, the approval process ends, and demolition of the existing building will make way for the new addition or house.
Long before that day—in fact as early in this process as possible—the more you can learn about the construction process and your rights as an adjacent neighbor, the less adversely you, your property, its value, your family, and your life may be affected.
Not all neighboring construction is bad. It’s just that in the excitement of planning and stretching dollars to achieve their “fully loaded” dream home, owners may not look at things from adjacent neighbors’ perspectives like yours:
• That airy open-concept, two-story addition speaks décor volumes to the owners, but it’s a two-story siding or stucco billboard-style wall to next-door neighbors, blocking out their views, sunlight, and breezes.
• Those wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows will let light in for the owners, but they represent night-light pollution and loss of privacy to those living next door who love their backyard, sitting outside in the evening, and their privacy in general.
• The amazing huge rear deck, second-floor terrace, and front balcony are wonderful open spaces for owners. In contrast, those exterior platforms are intrusive, overlooking vantage points and privacy-eliminators for adjacent neighbors and their guests. Elevated decks and balconies also lift sound and smoke vapors up over fences, so noise and smoke levels can become annoying for those next door.
• Raising the roof guarantees very high interior ceilings—cathedrals—so the owners enjoy that airy feeling. However, the additional roof height may mean sunlight blockage and snow and ice avalanching on to next door’s—that’s your—roof or access routes.
FYI: When your furnace and hot water heater vent into your chimney, the new build’s higher walls and roof may restrict venting and force you to replace your furnace, hot water heater, and anything else that requires your chimney to keep your home free of carbon monoxide.
Forewarned is Forearmed
The more you learn about the design and functionality of the new addition or house, the better you and the professionals you talk to or hire, will be able to anticipate problems for you. The smartest approach is to talk and negotiate with the owners before the building permit is approved and construction begins. Who will be your most useful information source? The goal is to learn from the mistakes of others, not your own.
• Contact a range of knowledgeable locals including local municipal building departments, contractors, your local elected representative, your ratepayer’s association or home association, and local real estate professionals. You may find neighbors who’ve lived through construction helpful. Many will share their construction complaints and unexpected issues that arose when construction was next door.
• Your insurance agent can explain what your home insurance will and will not cover if the damage is done to your home. They may also help you understand what builder’s insurance is and what it should and may not cover.
• If issues can not be resolved on friendly terms, you may need to contact a lawyer experienced with construction and the property issues involved. Ask for references so you can hear firsthand from past clients what the risk and rewards were when compared to the fees involved.
• Are there construction consultants in your area who’ll serve as a mediator or negotiator for a reasonable fee?
Nose around the community and see what you can learn that will be of help to you. Once you know who the builder or contractor will be and what their reputation is with past customers, property owners adjacent to their construction projects, key local suppliers or contractors, or relevant building associations, you could broaden your investigation. Contact neighbors, real estate professionals, or builder associations to determine what others think of the contractor’s expertise and level of professionalism.
You don’t have to talk to everyone, but ask around enough to learn who you’re dealing with and what the builder’s or contractor’s professional word means when it’s given to you.