Neighbor construction projects in DC

Neighbor construction can be inconvenient and contentious.  Whether you are the builder or the homeowner you need to know your rights.

If you have ever lived through a home improvement project you know it is a flat out, unmitigated pain-in-the-ass.  There is constant dust, noise, and vibration. Not to mention strangers invading your property, and losing the use of facilities and utilities, sometimes for days. At the end of it, you have a nice new kitchen, bathroom or refinished basement to show for it. However, neighbor construction projects are far more frustrating.  You have to put up with all of the noise and inconvenience and get none of the payoff. In fact, sometimes, your property could end up in worse shape because of someone else’s improvements. Frustrating.

Whether you are doing a renovation project or suffering through you’re neighbor’s, you need to be aware of the law. Adjacent and adjoining property owners have legal rights.  Neighbor construction projects happen faster, and with less contention, where the parties follow the law and communicate with each other. A little neighborliness and common courtesy go a long way.

In many cases that I have handled, we have used “good neighbor” agreements, setting forth the ground rules during the period of construction.  Those agreements might cover, for example, when construction will begin and end; keeping the site clean and secured at the end of the workday; street and alley parking allocation;  timing and conditions of utility work that might lead to outages; and how to report and address accidental damage to neighboring property.

In close proximity construction, some inconvenience and aggravation are inevitable, but, with communication, transparency and written agreements all help to mitigate an otherwise uncomfortable situation.

The law requires notification to neighbors that might be impacted by construction and in some cases, their affirmative consent

Under the building codes you must notify your neighbors about construction on your property.  Often, as a condition of getting a building permit, you need to demonstrate to DCRA that you distributed appropriate Neighbor Notification Letters along with copies of your construction documents.  A copy of the approved notification letter can be found on DCRA’s website here.

If you happen to be doing construction that could affect the structural stability of neighboring properties, there are additional requirements and, you must seek permission of your neighbor to enter onto their property to ensure or safeguard the structural integrity of their property.

In those cases, if your neighbor is uncooperative, it could lead to permitting delays.  Your uncooperative neighbor can’t necessarily stop you from performing work on your property that the zoning and construction codes allow for.  But, if your proposed alterations are structural, and your neighbor is knowledgeable and motivated, they can sure make it difficult.

If you are doing any construction you must safeguard your neighbor’s property

Even if the work that you are doing is minor, you have a duty to protect neighboring properties.  This includes preventing harm from vibrations, trucks and machinery and water runoff. For a complete rundown on the general responsibilities of people undertaking construction and the corresponding rights of neighboring property owners, DCRA publishes a fact sheet which can be accessed here.

If you have specific questions about a construction project that you have or are going to begin or that your neighbor is doing which is affecting you, contact me or make an appointment for a free case evaluation.

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