Dealing With Construction Damage Protecting Your Property and Residents

Now that the official ‘pause’ on construction has been lifted, more and more construction projects stopped by the onset of the pandemic will be starting - or finishing up. Possibly complicating this shift is the fact that there is a new round of Local Law 11 work on facades coming up. This can involve various types of buildings, but a lot of it involves co-ops and condominiums. Many co-ops and condos have squirreled away money over the past few months in anticipation of this, refinancing underlying mortgages on the building or implementing assessments to raise sufficient funds. Most of this work will be performed on the exteriors of the buildings themselves, i.e., on facades, roofs, and cornices, but other renovation work may be bundled in as well. 

Some aspects of the construction and inspection process are not open to debate; license fees and appropriate permitting for necessities like sidewalk sheds, for example, are in place to protect the life, health and safety of pedestrians, and are therefore not negotiable. However, many of these projects will also require access to neighboring buildings for various reasons - and that is where things can get a bit more complicated. A lot of what can be done by neighbors depends on where the two buildings are located and the configuration of the work area. For example, one co-op in Queens had a big open area in the back of the building where trucks could drive in to drop off materials and scaffolding could be stored for work on an adjacent building. The adjacent building’s use of this area was subject to negotiation of a licensing fee. 

Along with storing materials, a neighboring building may request the use of your roof or your backyard as a product staging area. In the case of one of my client buildings, a neighboring co-op wanted to carry construction materials through the client’s ground floor, then use their service elevator to transport it all to the roof. The risk of damage to common area walls, flooring, and the elevator itself posed by equipment, lumber, and work crews is obvious. Interestingly, after we told the other party what our access fee would be, they quickly came up with a way to transport the materials through their building, and then up to the roof. 

Some buildings and contractors don’t bother to ask permission; depending on the configuration of the buildings, they may simply go on other people’s roofs, or use ladders to gain access over a dividing wall or fence. I know of one shareholder who came home from work to find the side of their building painted a different color. The neighbor’s contractors had used ladders, climbed over the fence and set up their own equipment. Another couple with an apartment on the top floor of the same building awoke one morning to the sound of workmen talking on the roof, directly outside their bedroom window. The shareholders may not have even realized those workers shouldn’t have been there - but they were upset, to say the least.

Avoiding Trouble 

To avoid such situations, an access agreement (sometimes also called a license agreement) is a good first step. This document allows the buildings involved to anticipate, discuss, and sort out these issues and have insurance in place ahead of time. If one building needs prolonged use of another building’s space, coming to mutually agreeable terms of that use is like negotiating rent. After all, some of these projects can last a long time.

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