Your neighbors have the potential to make your renovation project much more difficult than it needs to be. An angry neighbor can call the managing agent or worse, the Department of Buildings, resulting in delays and potential fines. Even if your contractor is running a tight ship, the last thing he or she wants is an inspector snooping around the job site looking to fill the city’s coffers by issuing expensive violations.
Keeping your neighbors happy during your renovation will help finish your project on time and on budget, and will ensure good, ongoing relationships for the many years you and they envision living in your building. Here's how to keep the neighbors as happy as possible under the circumstances:
- Prior Notice: Most co-ops require you to tell all your neighbors on the same floor as you, and on one floor above and below, the date on which you are starting your renovation and to give them your contractor’s contact information. A letter slipped under the door will suffice. Telling them in person is better, since it shows your concern and, if they have any problems, it invites them to approach you directly instead of running to a board member or to the managing agent.
- Tips: Give your super at least $100 before you start the renovation, so that if a neighbor does complain, your super will be inclined to smooth things out. I recommend giving supers another tip in the middle of a project and whenever they help your contractor. Don’t rely on your contractor to tip in your place: The super’s loyalty is to the shareholders. Moreover, with a weak economy and tight competition for jobs, some contractors have had to reduce margins so much that handing out $100 bills will not come easily. I guarantee that this tip will provide a better ROI than any other investment you can make during your renovation.
- Flexibility: Some of your neighbors may have special requests regarding quiet at certain hours of the day. As much as it might drive you crazy to think that your project will be slowed by meeting these requests, consider how the renovation can be completely derailed if you don't. (That's aside from the fact that you do want to be considerate of your neighbors.) We are currently renovating a $10 million townhouse and every day at 2 p.m. we stop working on the façade for two hours so that a neighbor’s baby can take an afternoon nap. Believe me, you do not want to upset a new mother and have her take out her vengeance on your renovation.
- Schedule: Let your neighbors know how long the renovation is intended to take and give them advance notice when there will be a lot of noise if they work from home or are taking care of children. It is amazing how much goodwill you can generate by simply giving a neighbor advance notice when your workers will be drilling for 8 hours straight and they are trying to perfect their Zen meditation routine.
- Ignore the Kooks: On many jobs you will have a neighbor who will complain regardless of how accommodating you are. On one of our projects we have a self-proclaimed “Mayor of the Block” who takes photographs of our workers coming and going, and is constantly calling 311 to complain about supposed building violations. If his complaint cites a seemingly valid issue, such as unsafe work practices or working after hours, the city will dispatch an inspector. And since complaints are anonymous, the Department of Buildings takes them seriously. We've tried to talk to this gentleman in a reasonable manner, but he won't stop irritating our workers and trying to get us in trouble. At this stage, we consider his annoyance “the cost of doing business” and ignore him to the extent that we can.
- Cleanliness: One of the most common complaints I see in apartment projects is that workers didn't leave the hallways clean. Even a simple drop of plaster dust can lead to a neighbor complaining to the building management and attracting scrutiny of your project. Construction workers are used to working in dirty environments and are not always sensitive to how clean hallways are expected to be. Insist that your contractor protect the hallway every day (even if the building doesn’t mandate it) with Rosin paper at minimum, and that a wet rag is kept on the floor at the entrance to your apartment so workers can wipe their shoes when leaving the site.
Yoel Borgenicht is the president of King Rose Construction, specializing in high-quality commercial and residential renovations in the New York City metro area.