Keeping Cool Under Fire Handling Construction Disputes with Neighbors

 The good news is, after a fallow period in the depths of the recession, the  construction industry in New York City is starting to come back. However, with  that activity comes the potential for disputes and property damage, especially  with neighboring properties. Lately some of the projects stalled in the  economic downturn have come alive, and co-ops and condominiums next door to  these projects have been calling me for advice on what to do to gear up.  

 One small co-op building found themselves with a Goliath next door. The  construction project had been quiet for over one year, then suddenly  shareholders started seeing a lot of activity. One day, the board president  received a call from someone affiliated with the project, stating that they  would need to “protect” the co-op building, and requesting a meeting to discuss an access agreement.  This was a terrifying mixed message for the board. There was nothing about this  project that would benefit the co-op, yet to some degree they couldn't say no,  because such protection is required by law. So this quiet little co-op building  called me in a panic about how to handle this situation.  

 My first order of business was to put together a team of experts to work with me  in reviewing the plans for the project next door. Prior to that time, my client  really had no idea of what the neighbor was planning to do, and how it would  affect their property. Assembling such a team is essential if you are going to  have any meaningful discussions with a neighboring developer. You need to fully  understand the technical aspects of what they are planning to do, and fully  understand if there is room for any counter-proposals. Frankly, developers are  often hoping the neighboring building cannot (or will not) spend the money  needed to do this investigation and determine what is really going on, and will  pretty much agree to anything that does not sound too outrageous.  

 Show Us the Way

 We started off with the developer inviting us over to “show us the plans.” The poor board president’s head was spinning as we heard for the first time what they were really  proposing and how it would impact my co-op client’s building. The developer's rep was not eager to give us a copy of the very  complicated plans, but we needed to review them ourselves to determine what the  developers really wanted to do—and whether it was agreeable, trespassing, or something else entirely.  

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