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When Your Neighbor Renovates, How Do You Protect Your Home?

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Q: I rent a market-rate apartment in a three-unit building in Queens, and my neighbor is setting up for major construction. To do the construction safely, they say they need to set up scaffolding on our building’s property in a way that will block our driveway. Access to our garage and use of the driveway is included in my lease, but my landlord claims that she cannot prevent the neighbor from erecting the scaffolding on her property, and that they could sue her for being a “bad neighbor.” Can my landlord be compelled to allow our driveway to be blocked?

A: This situation is common enough that a law exists to balance the interests of people who renovate their properties with the interests of their neighbors.

Your neighbor might need temporary access to your property to perform inspections, to reach an area of the construction site, to set up construction equipment, or to install overhead protection equipment to prevent potential damage from the work.

One way to do this is for your neighbor to pursue a license in court that allows them necessary access, but also sets conditions such as insurance, safety and compensation. In these cases, a judge issues the license and the renovator could be ordered to pay a fee. The fee would go toward reducing the rent for the affected tenant next door without interrupting the landlord’s rental income. It also would apply to the landlord and address any damage caused by the work, said Andrew J. Wagner, a partner who specializes in landlord-tenant issues at Herrick.

There are often penalties if the work is not completed in a timely manner. Affected neighbors could also have the right to hire architects and engineers to review the plans, and to have these fees reimbursed in addition to the license fee.

To avoid the time and money it takes to obtain a license in court, your landlord should pursue a quicker private access agreement with the neighbor, one that includes compensation for the loss of the driveway and garage for you and other affected tenants.

“While the adjoining property owner is entitled by law to do the work,” Mr. Wagner said, “it must be conditioned upon them paying a reasonable license fee to the building owner and the tenant.”

If your landlord doesn’t act, you could bring an action in State Supreme Court to stop the work until an agreement is reached, but that could be very expensive.

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