NYC Renovation Chronicles

How not to alienate your neighbors when you renovate

By Penny Fallman May  | June 10, 2010 - 5:38AM
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The Situation

Most New Yorkers who own their apartments understand that enduring other people's renovations comes with the vertical territory.

Eighty-five percent of the time, neighbors grin and bear it, knowing they might be the ones asking for understanding the next time. 

But construction-related annoyances occasionally result in dramatic reactions.  Neighbors vent at the super, managing agent or the resident doing the renovating, or they demand to get the construction stopped or timed to suit his or her schedule.

Most times extreme reactions like these can be avoided, or at least mitigated.

Here’s the Deal

To keep the peace, you need to anticipate flash points before they happen, and work with your architect, designer and super to communicate with your neighbors (and hear their concerns) before things get out of hand.

1.  Common trigger points 

  • Generally, demolition--the noisiest work that causes the most vibration--is the most difficult for neighbors.
  • Fumes from paint and/or polyurethane used in floor refinishing can be disturbing as well.

2. Aggravating factors 

  • People do become more upset and paranoid if they think that the person renovating is unaware or insensitive to the lives of the adjacent neighbors.
  • To the unfortunate neighbors who are home during the day, it can seem as though you have lost your peaceful home forever.
  • Renovations that seem to drag on beyond a reasonable period of time can cause a neighbor to feel that he or she has no control over their home environment. 
  • If construction workers are not properly supervised, their behavior can also be disruptive to the neighbors.

3. Keeping the peace if not the quiet

  • Before you begin your renovation, be sure to send a personal note to each adjacent neighbor. (Some managing agents require that you do this) Your note can simply state that your renovation will begin on a particular date and suggest that they contact you or the super if they have any questions or concerns.
  • Work closely with your super during the renovation period. Meet with him and ask that he notify you immediately of any complaints. You might have him notify the neighbors when demolition or other especially noisy work will take place, so that your neighbors can make alternative plans, if necessary, and leave them feeling more in control than overrun.
  • Neighbors can become furious if they are suffering through your renovation while they imagine that you are enjoying the peace and quiet of another place. So if you’re renovating and have not yet moved into the building, you should check in with the super on a regular basis to field any complaints.
  • If you are new to the building, your neighbors have not gotten to know you and/or your family and tend to think the worst about you.  Be sure that your initial note is personal and understanding in tone. (You might send another note and a gift to the neighbor directly below you after the demolition period is over.)
  • If your renovation damages  adjacent apartments, be sure to act quickly. Send flowers and a note, reassuring your neighbor that you are aware of the situation and that you will see that your contractor makes repairs immediately.


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