(New York, NY) — Renovating your home is always a daunting task and a challenge. But in New York City, co-ops and condos pose more challenges as they are directly adjacent to apartments that are side by side to yours, as well as your entire floor. We bring these things to light because you may be undergoing a renovation and, often times, especially when you have thin walls, your neighbors can hear every nail being hammered in. Then your neighbors may also be subjected not just to noise, but also to dust, debris and disruptions that could run a month or so but is more likely months and even a year depending on what is being renovated.
The renovated apartment is often difficult because space is an issue. Even apartments that have a large layout don’t have enough room for your contractor to place his materials, benches, tools and chainsaws, among others, especially if you have made the choice to live in your apartment during the reno. Moreover, a small mistake can damage your neighbor’s home. For example, the New York Times just reported that some dust filtered into the apartment next door and, to remedy the situation, the contractor patched an open hole in the wall behind a stove. But that wasn’t enough for the pissed-off neighbor; she then claimed her burners weren’t working now and that her stove was ruined.
That may be an exaggeration, but it was newsworthy enough for the Times to print. But the point is, renovations in the city need to follow some rules to keep neighbors happy. Unlike house renos, apartments are not detached. The woman who demanded a new stove was probably lying, acting out because she was sick, for example, of the noise and was inconvenienced and annoyed by the heavy work being done.
This shouldn’t happen to you. You may damage a neighbor’s adjacent apartment, but some guidelines we’ve put together will help make yourself a good neighbor which, in turn, will quell any problems you may have in your building. These guidelines are very simple, but will help you in a major way.
1 LET YOUR NEIGHBOR IN ON THE RENOVATION
Before you even start renovating, do something simple that will go a long way. Send all your surrounding neighbors a good-natured and polite letter indicating that work will be done and apologizing in advance for any inconvenience. To make more of an impact, make sure you include the approximate dates your renovation will take place. This letter will set an amicable and friendly tone so that if a problem does occur, the neighbor or neighbors will be more likely to want to work something out with you rather than oppose you and take your issue up to the board or building management in a hostile and vilified way. They will be more likely to understand that any damage was not your fault.
2 DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HIDE YOUR RENO
Letting your neighbors in on your project will eradicate or reduce their annoyance and inconvenience. But if you fail to do this, your neighbor will be kept in the dark and her imagination may run rampant and she will assume the worst. Then she’ll be nosey or a tattletale, and may do everything in her power to make your demo difficult, including reporting your project to the Board of Directors or the Department of Buildings or the co-op board if you live in a co-op. In addition, her annoyance will also lead her to vent to the super, the managing agent, other neighbors, as well as the person or persons doing the remodeling.
3 A WAY TO ENSURE IF ANY DAMAGE IS YOURS OR WAS PRE-EXISTING
For damages, the best way around this is to take pictures of your neighbors’ apartment before the reno so there’s no false claim that an existing damage was your fault. The board and its managing agent will do the documentation. This makes the process easier to determine if a damage was a pre-existing condition or caused by the work done.
4 REDUCE COMMON TRIGGER POINTS
Most times extreme reactions like the above can be avoided, or at least mitigated. One way is for you to work with your architect, designer and super to communicate with your neighbors before the project reaches a boiling point where construction becomes very loud, for example. Then have an open dialogue with any neighbor who will be affected (including the apartment under yours) where he or she can voice their concerns. Remember, letting other tenants in on your project is always a good idea.
We’ve said this before, but we need to drive the point home. A demolition causes extreme noise and vibration that may drive the neighbor looney. Painting walls will cause fumes and so will polyurethane that is used in floor refinishing. While these can’t be avoided, you can still talk to neighbors about these concerns that will directly affect them.
5 AGGRAVATING FACTORS
Unfortunately for you, neighbors who have to deal with renovations will feel as if you’re insensitive to what is being built. It’s good for you if the reno is done between nine in the morning to five in the afternoon, as that is often the time when neighbors are at work, guaranteeing that they won’t be disturbed. That, in fact, happens to be the exact time period that your building will offer you.
But for the neighbors who stay at home all day, this is another beast to deal with. They will feel displaced in their own home, feeling that they have no control whatsoever about what is going on. The best thing to do is once again to reach out to the stay-at-home mom or the freelance writer who works from home. They may still feel uncomfortable, but a chat with you where you listen to their concerns will dramatically reduce their paranoia and oftentimes will change their view of you that you’re insensitive and not concerned about their feelings.
6 WAYS TO MAKE YOUR NEIGHBORS FEEL IN CONTROL
To reduce complaints, work closely with your super. Tip this person well to make him your best friend and ask him to keep abreast of the reno while you are out so that he can quickly inform you of any problems. Your letter works to remind tenants of the time frame of your project, but that’s not enough. The super will go further and will be able to notify neighbors the exact time in which the work gets noisy. Once again, letting the neighbor in on the process can’t be overlooked.
7 THE SUPER CAN GREATLY AFFECT YOUR RENO
The super actually plays a huge part in your renovation. That’s because most demos take place before the owner moves into the building. When you’re not checking up on how things are going, the super will be the point person when you’re not around or available. You should check in with him every day to ask if there have been any complaints.
8 YOU ARE A STRANGER HERE
Remember that if you are new to the building, your neighbors won’t know you and will consider you inconsiderate or anything else they can imagine and impose on you. If they are hostile or unfriendly when you happen to meet them, it’s wise to talk to them and then follow up with another heart-felt note explaining that you are not being noisy on purpose. Even better, shower them with gifts, such as food baskets from Zabar’s or gift cards to Barnes and Noble or Best Buy. That’s a way to bide time.
9 ANOTHER TIME TO GIVE
It’s bound to happen. Your renovation may cause damages to your neighbors’ apartments. That’s why keeping in touch with your super helps you know about the damages right away, especially if you are off-site. Then you have to act quickly in terms or repair. Try to talk to the neighbor whose home you damaged and reassure him that your contractor will make the repairs immediately. During this time, you should also send the neighbors something that will make them feel less helpless and more in control of the situation and will also make them know that you are thinking about their well-being. Home-baked goods go a long way, as do flowers and the aforementioned gift cards to keep the peace.