Dealing With Neighbors When Remodeling a Condo or Co-op

Take proactive steps to make sure disgruntled neighbors don't take action in response to the noise or other disruption caused by your repair and construction activities.

If you are planning to remodel your condo or co-op unit, get ready to deal with a good amount of red tape. Depending on the rules of your building association, you’ll likely need to submit a great deal of paperwork well ahead of time, including draft contracts, insurance certificates, and work schedules. You’ll also need to negotiate with contractors and/or subcontractors, all while balancing your own work and family schedule. Add to this list another potential area of concern: the neighbors.

Neighbors have the potential to disrupt or slow your renovation in all sorts of ways. They can make complaints to the building management, or worse, to the local building authorities, which could carry out enforcement activities, such as issuing a stop-work order.

It is in your best interests to ensure that your neighbors remain as informed and content as possible throughout the process, in order to avert costly, time-consuming delays to your renovation. While this advice isn't necessarily “legal” in nature, it might save you from needing to hire an attorney or from needing to fight to complete your renovation.

Putting Yourself in Your Neighbors’ Shoes

If you live in a multi-unit building, you may not only have neighbors to your left and right, but above you, below you, and across the hall. As you begin to engage on your remodeling project, you would be wise to put yourself in the shoes of each of these neighbors.

What noises will the woman below your apartment hear? When will she hear them? Will your contractors need to bang on a wall shared with your neighbor to your left? Will they potentially be shutting down water pipes that are shared with your neighbor on the right? Will your contractors be leaving dangerous tools in the hallway in a situation where your neighbor across the hall has small children?

Consider all of these scenarios and be sure to communicate these concerns directly to your contractors and subcontractors.

Leave an Initial Letter Advising Neighbors What’s Ahead

Well before the first contractor sets foot in your apartment, consider writing a letter to each of your neighbors who might be affected by the upcoming events. The letter need not be apologetic, but it should acknowledge that you recognize that they might be disturbed.

Be honest about the nature of the work involved. Will it involve noise? Smell? Vibrations? How many strangers might they expect to see coming into the building? What are the approximate work hours of your contractors? And finally, what dates do you expect the project to start and finish?

A simple, page-long letter can do wonders for setting expectations. Again, put yourself in your neighbors' shoes. If you were to unexpectedly hear banging on your wall in the middle of the afternoon, you very well might get angry and complain to building management. But if you knew what was coming ahead of time, you might still be annoyed, but at least wouldn't be surprised or angry.

A letter of warning would also give your neighbors notice that, perhaps, they should plan a weekend trip or go out to dinner with their spouse instead of cook on a particular weeknight.

Your letter should also conclude with the sentiment that if your neighbors have any questions or concerns, they should not hesitate to contact you. Leave your email address and cellphone number to make that contact effortless for them.

Be Willing to Listen

When you say that your neighbors should contact you with questions or concerns, you need to be receptive to such communications. Most likely, 90% of your neighbors will not contact you and will simply live with the annoyance. But it’s probably the folks in that remaining 10% you need to worry about.

For example, imagine the neighbor in the apartment below tells you that on a particular afternoon, she’s planning to host a long-planned lunch for old friends and would be greatly disturbed by construction noise. Consider whether it would be possible to have your contractors not work that afternoon, or have them take their own lunch at the same time that your neighbor is having lunch. Small concessions like this can maintain goodwill with your neighbors throughout the renovation process.

Do Something Kind Afterwards

Recognize that your neighbors may have put up with a lot during your renovation process. Some may have kept quiet about it, but that does not mean that they were not inconvenienced or disturbed.

Consider a small gesture of appreciation. For example, you could leave small boxes of chocolates in the mailboxes with a thank-you note, or if your unit can accommodate it, invite your neighbors in for drinks and hors d'oeuvres one evening after work. These moves might seem unnecessary or overly friendly, but it is important to show your gratitude. It is also somewhat strategic. It is in your best interests that, should you need to bring another contractor back to fix something up in the future, your neighbors’ initial reaction will not be anger.

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