Part 2: Questions Protect You...Keep Asking!

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 01 June 2021 00:00

[Part 1: Suddenly Construction Looms posted May 4 ]

The renovation or new-build project next door can leave you with all the headaches of construction without any of the benefits.

• The owner of the neighboring property will probably move out and rent in quiet comfort until construction is over.

• Construction noise will be your new alarm clock. Noise and vibrations will disrupt your daily life and may even continue into the evening or over the weekend, depending on local noise and construction bylaws and how rigorously they are enforced.

• Wood and concrete dust will settle over and in everything you own. Hours of cleaning and vacuuming will keep you busy.

• Deliberate or accidental damage to your property may be a continual and expensive aggravation depending on local bylaws and how rigorously they are enforced.

• The owner may merely hand all responsibility over to the contractor or builder and never realize how much stress and intrusion they inflict on neighbors like you. The excitement of renovating or building their dream home can leave the owner oblivious to any problems or negative impact for you and other neighbors. More on this in Part 1: Suddenly Construction Looms

Ask a lot of questions before work begins and problems start. Getting accurate answers is the best way to save yourself trouble in the long run.

Conversations with local zoning and building departments, as well as your local elected representative, will help you understand your rights as well as gaps in how thoroughly your property is protected. Knowledge is power here, so expect to invest time learning as much as you can before building begins.

Take notes and collect phone numbers and email addresses so you know who to contact for help, especially in an emergency. Meet as many of the players in advance so your calls and emails will be answered quickly. Concisely document your concerns with respect to each department involved and ask for your letter to be added to the file to alert inspectors. This helps your concerns receive the attention they require, but expect to follow up by phone or in-person to be sure.

Asserting your rights and protecting your home are not unfriendly or unneighborly actions. If the owner leans on your friendship as a reason to let them have their way at great cost to you, be very wary of them. Self-interest is more powerful than friendship to most people.

Speak up pleasantly and firmly to learn what the owner, contractor, and designer have planned so you can head-off anything that can turn into a negative for you and your property. Don’t be shy about being firm if they dodge questions. “After the fact” is too late. 

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

As an adjacent property owner, you have a lot to lose including sanity, and your peace of mind. Resulting disadvantage or damage to your property could undermine its value. If you work from home, the noise and disruption may impact your income.

A written construction or encroachment agreement is recommended before permits are granted or work begins. This agreement or contract will make taking the owner and/or contractor to court more effective if that becomes necessary. Keep in mind this document says exactly what it says, not what you hoped it would say or meant it to say. Consulting a lawyer who is recommended for successfully representing clients in situations like yours may be advisable. 

The sample questions below can help you understand the depth and breadth of issues that may arise, but they do not represent a comprehensive list. There may be significant concerns relevant to your specific and unique situation which are not mentioned below, so keep digging!

Here are the types of questions you will benefit from having the owner, designer, and contractor answer accurately before construction begins. Keep written or audio proof of their exact answers. Beware of assumptions—theirs and yours!

1. Scheduling & Protection

a) Who will be in charge on-site every day? What hours will they be there? 

What time will construction begin and end each day? Will work continue on weekends?

How often will the contractor and designer visit and how can they be reached in emergencies?

b) What is the overall construction sequence or schedule and when will the project be complete? May I have a copy of the construction schedule? 

c) During demolition and throughout construction, how will my garden, trees, decks, roof, chimney, satellite dish, driveway, and any other relevant areas be protected? 

How will my windows, walls (inside and out), foundations, fixtures, and chattel be protected during construction? 

If something is damaged on my property, like a fence, window, or retaining wall, how quickly will it be repaired or replaced at the owner’s or contractor’s expense?

d) When will demolition begin and what will that involve?

What measures will be taken to protect my home and its foundations, walls, and windows from damage, dust, and debris during demolition?

What heavy equipment will be used and how experienced are the operators?

e) How will the owner and the contractor ensure workers, equipment, and material stay on the owner’s land and do not trespass across the property line?

f) What insurance do the homeowner and the contractor carry and how does the insurance cover damage to my property?

How does my property insurance protect me?

2. Construction & Excavation

a) If some or all of the adjacent exterior walls remain intact, how will they be braced so they don’t fall across the property line?

b) How will the excavator know exactly where to dig relative to the property line, so they don’t disturb my property—soil, weeping tile drainage system, plants, fence…or building? How old is the survey being used? Does the owner agree that my foundation and footings will not be exposed and the soil undermined, and that no one will excavate across the property line?

c) Who decides if shoring or protecting supports are necessary? If required, what type of shoring will be used, who will install it, and who pays for this? Will all of this equipment be on the owner’s land?

d) What is the plan to ensure there is no movement of my building or the soil at the foundation wall, footings, and weeping system? 

How deep is the excavation? At what depth will the footings be poured? Will excavation go below my footings and foundation? 

What and who guarantees that all the work can all be done safely and there will be no long-term negative impact on my property?

e) How will my foundation, walls, weeping tiles or drainage system, and interior be protected from water drainage during excavation and the construction project? What is your plan if my building is compromised by flooding or in any other way and how quickly can and will you act?

f) How many discharge and exhaust vents will be along our shared property line? 

Where will the sump pump discharge water? What fumes will come out of the furnace, fireplace, and other vents and how will those fumes be directed away from my windows and doors? 

Where will gutters discharge and what will prevent water draining onto my property or into my home? 

If exterior hard surfaces like artificial grass are installed, how will drainage be kept on the owner’s property and not run onto mine?

g) Is there any reason why heavy equipment or workers could or would travel along or over the property line? Will our written access or encroachment agreement include specific times and limitations for clearly-defined work taking place on my property?

The closer your two buildings are to each other, the greater the potential for long-term or permanent problems and aggravation for you. 

Think ahead. You will be the only one committed to doing that for your property!

More on protecting your real estate in Part 1: Suddenly Construction Looms

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PJ Wade —       Decisions & Communities

Futurist and Achievement Strategist PJ WADE is “The Catalyst”—intent on Challenging The Best to Become Even Better. A dynamic problem solver and author of 8 books and more than 2800 published articles, PJ concentrates on the knowledge, insight, communication prowess, and special decision-making skills essential for professionals and their clients who are determined to thrive in the 21st-Century vortex of change.

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