If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a building to renovate an apartment. Even if your project is confined to your own four walls, your neighbors can’t help but get involved—whether they’re suffering the demolition noise or passing your contractors in the hallway.
For that reason, many design professionals recommend notifying your neighbors—upstairs, downstairs and next door—in writing well in advance of starting any work. It’s a bit like giving them a heads up before throwing a party, a way to deflect bad feelings and noise complaints.
Fraser Patterson, founder of Bolster (a Brick sponsor)—a service that connects New Yorkers with the right architects and contractors—explains it as "a common courtesy, and it keeps them on your side," he says.
As the work is underway, it helps to "periodically warn them before bigger work starts," he adds. "Nobody likes surprises."
Not everyone is behind the practice. Some renovators see the written notice as a doorway to further gripes, giving residents an opening to nitpick over the details of the job. Instead, they suggest explaining the scope of the project in person—the contractors at his firm tend to do this, Patterson says—or asking building management to post a notice in the lobby.
That said, the architects we spoke with often have a standard letter they pass on to clients, and many co-op and condo buildings require them as part of their building alteration agreements. The letter is “a courtesy in advance so people can prepare accordingly with longer elevator wait times, noise that will impact children and naps, or services being turned on or off—for example water, heat, etc.,” says Jory Schwartz, an interior designer at shprojects, a Manhattan design firm.
The tone of your letter will depend on the relationship you have with your neighbors: some are perfunctory, others are warmer. “Gain their empathy,” advises Jean Brownhill Lauer, the founder and CEO of Sweeten, an online network of renovation experts. “If there's a big problem that needs fixing, go ahead and say what it is.” You could also invite your neighbors to see the finished product when it’s done, she suggests.
And should you give an idea of the timeline? Sure, as long as you give yourself wiggle room, says Patterson.
To start, keep the missive brief, read over our real-life samples below, and be sure to include the following:
- the start and end dates of the job
- a brief description of the work being done
- assurances that the contractor has been instructed to keep hallways clean, avoid work in the evenings and on weekends, and generally minimize disruption
- an apology for any potential inconvenience and a thank you for the neighbor’s patience
- contact information in case of any concerns. Whether you include your own phone number and/or email address or advise neighbors to contact the super or building manager is up to you. On one job, David Katz, founder of Katz Architecture, worked with two “high-powered professionals who had no time for calls,” and thus rerouted queries through management (see sample letter above). But, he adds, “under normal circumstances there is nothing wrong with giving your neighbors your phone number in case there is an emergency to deal with.” And if you’re worried about inviting a hailstorm of calls from the building's busybodies? “We advise that the letters only include the names of the shareholders/owners, although some people may prefer to include an email address or phone number, as the neighbors can leave a note at their door or the front desk/super,” says Schwartz.
- For larger jobs, it may make sense to ask to photograph the neighbor’s apartment so that if any damage—or claims of damage—come up, there’s a record of what the place looked like beforehand, recommends real estate lawyer C. Jaye Berger. “They might say something like, ‘We would like to have our architect take some photos of your apartment to document the condition before any work is done. We would like to have XXX call you to set up a convenient time.”
- Lastly, notify your neighbors of any environmental concerns, such as dust and fumes, that may come up so that sensitive neighbors can avoid them, suggests Brownhill Lauer.
***This story first ran in October 30, 2014, and was updated on July 25, 2016.
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