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Whether you’re going the 100 percent DIY route or hiring professionals, or whether you live in an apartment building or in a freestanding house, one thing is always true: If you’re doing construction on your home, it’s bound to have an impact on your neighbors, too. And unfortunately for them, your neighbors don’t get to enjoy the fruits of the labor. They just have to deal with buzzing saws, repetitive hammering, or dumpsters in the driveway for a few months.
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Best case scenario? Live in total seclusion in a home that’s on hundreds of acres of land, the next neighbor miles away, perhaps even in the next town over, so that you can be as loud as you want and make as many messes as needed during your reno. But if you can’t do that, heed these warnings from those who have done renos themselves.
We tapped the experts: CEO and Founder of Flipping Cincy, Kevin Geraci, who has renovated multiple homes in the Cincinnati area; Matt DiBara, owner of DiBara Masonry and host of the Undercover Contractor podcast, who has been on over 4,000 construction appointments; and Sarah Jacobsen, who gutted and renovated her 750-square-foot apartment in New York’s Lower East Side, to ask about the most common neighbor complaints during construction. “It usually falls under noise, dust, or work hours,” DiBara says.
Here are ten common concerns from neighbors — and how to mitigate those complaints so you can salvage those relationships.
“Respecting the local noise ordinances is huge,” DiBara says. If your project involves loud saws, loud hammering, or if there will be noisy trucks around, obey the local quiet hours and be mindful of holidays. “If you don’t respect those boundaries, homeowners are not usually happy — it doesn’t make for a good neighbor relationship,” DiBara says.
And when noisiness can’t be avoided, give neighbors advance notice. In addition to posting the permits you’ve acquired to do the renovation, you can also post a more friendly notice that neighbors are more likely to read, whether that’s on paper or online. A week’s notice is best practice, DiBara says: “You can do it through apps like Nextdoor, posting a notice with your contact information as well as the lead contractor.”
2. Loud Colors (or Copycat Colors)
When it comes to exterior paint colors, you should follow your heart — that is, unless you have a homeowners’ association (HOA) policy that you need to be mindful of. In many neighborhoods, certain colors might be off-limits or you might even be required to stick to a certain color palette. But even if you don’t have strict requirements in your area, your neighbors still might have strong feelings about your color choice. Yes, it’s ultimately up to you, but it’s worth considering — for peace and for resale value — what the typical color palettes are for your home’s style and in your home’s area. (A pale pink might look a lot more at home in a beachy Florida ‘hood than in a community of Craftsman-style houses in the middle of Ohio, for example.)
One other thing to consider: “We also don’t want to pick a color that’s what the next door neighbor has,” Geraci says. (That is, unless every house or condo or duplex on the block is uniform.) “It kind of takes away from them and the work or design they’ve done.” Just like you wouldn’t plagiarize a painting, don’t plagiarize the house next door!
“If you’re doing any type of digging or excavation and you have digging equipment, or certain things on the exterior of the home, those can be dusty if you’re cutting wood or any type of concrete or brick,” DiBara says.
If you live in an apartment building, this is especially important to keep in mind, he adds. Let neighbors who typically like to let the breeze in know in advance that they’ll want to close their windows on days where there’s going to be dusty work taking place on scaffolding or lifts.
No neighbor is going to like if there’s a truck parked in front of their house for weeks on end. If you have pros with big trucks coming to your house during a renovation, make sure they park in front of your home, and let neighbors know when this is happening and for how long. Be sure to give neighbors both your phone number as well as your lead contractor’s phone number, DiBara says, in case a truck blocks their driveway and they need to get to a doctor’s appointment ASAP or if a delivery truck delivers at the wrong address.
In an apartment building with an open lot, you should still let tenants know their parking (or their guests’ parking) might be affected during business hours. Big trucks take up a lot of parking spaces, DiBara says.
5. Poorly Placed Porta Potties or Dumpsters
These clunky, smelly fixtures are a necessary evil of construction work, so just be sure they’re not blocking neighbor’s property. You should also let neighbors know how long they’ll be there. When it comes to who you should alert, DiBara has an easy guide: “There’s usually the rule of threes: Three on the left, three on the right, and the three directly across the street, depending on the urban density of where you live,” he says.
“It’s common courtesy just to say ‘Hey, we’re going to be doing some work. This is what we’re doing,’” he says. He recommends giving at least a week’s notice.
If you’re mixing paint or concrete, watch where you rinse your buckets, and be conscious when hosing down messes in general. “Be considerate of where the water’s going,” DiBara says — he’s seen neighbors sue one another over stained driveways and streets.
7. Property Line Violations
And speaking of driveways, if your home reno involves pouring a new driveway, adding a retaining wall, or adding a fence, be ultra-cautious when it comes to property lines, Geraci adds.
Sometimes his home flipping company will even let neighbors choose the direction a new fence will face. “Technically, whoever owns the property, the posts are supposed to face them, but there’s not any kind of rule a lot of times, either, with the city. Sometimes people like to see the pretty side where they don’t have a post. Some people prefer the post. So we’ll work with them on that,” Geraci says.
During construction, there’s bound to be lots of trash. (Hence the aforementioned dumpsters.) But where there should not be trash is in a neighbor’s yard, and it should definitely not be lunch trash from a crew of workers, or packaging trash from new fixtures or furniture. This might require a mid-day and end-of-day trash pickup on your end, just to be extra cautious.
It’s easier to keep an eye on things if you’re living in the home while it’s being renovated. But if you’re crashing somewhere else while the work is ongoing, or if you’re renovating a home you haven’t yet moved into, it’s crucial to keep an eye on things. If possible, “go to the job site EVERY day,” Jacobsen says. “If you’re not watching, someone will make a decision you didn’t know to ask about, and it will not be the one you would’ve made.”
9. Scaffolding (for Apartment Dwellers)
If your renovation involves construction workers on scaffolding, as is the case in most big-city apartments, dust getting in through upper windows is a concern, but so is privacy. “You might have a fence or trees, but when there’s scaffolding or lifts, privacy is such a big element,” DiBara says. “All of the sudden, you have construction workers there up high.”
DiBara recommends offering peel-and-stick frosted window coverings to neighboring apartment dwellers who will be impacted by privacy until that portion of the project is over. Also, let neighbors know if their natural light will be impacted by scaffolding, DiBara says.
10. Water Shutoffs or Leaks
Also for apartment dwellers, if you (or your hired pros) are doing plumbing or electrical work, there might be a project that requires shutting off the whole building’s power or water. “Water pressure issues or effectiveness — water cutting out — are common,” DiBara says. Again, here, provide neighbors with an emergency contact number, and don’t do this work at peak shower or cooking times.
11. Limited Elevator Access
If your apartment building doesn’t have a freight elevator, let tenants know that there might be delays. “If we’re doing constant trips, if it used to take you two minutes to get to the 10th floor, now it might take you 10 minutes because we have crews that are using the elevator all the time,” DiBara says.
And while a long wait for the elevator is a slight inconvenience, blocked elevators and ramps are a serious inconvenience for any neighbor in your building who requires those for accessibility. The best rule of thumb is to not block these important access points, but if it’s necessary, make a plan with your neighbor first.
Remember: Communication is key.
If you haven’t already sensed a theme here, early and constant communication during the construction process is the best way to make sure your neighbors know that a total monster isn’t moving into the neighborhood. “Having that open line of communication is crucial to maintaining a good relationship,” DiBara says.
And it’s highly likely that there will be a mistake or two along the way, but that’s where communication is especially important! In fact, it’s what helped Jacobsen become friends with one of her neighbors. “Early on in the demo process, my building management called to tell me that my contractor and his guys had caused a leak from my bathroom to the one directly below it,” she explains. “My contractor assured me he’d fix it, but I could tell the complainants were pissed — and rightfully so, how annoying! That night, I hustled over to the demo’d apartment to meet the couple downstairs, prepared with an, ‘Oh my god, I’m a newbie renovator, we’ll fix it, I promise!’ plea … Fast forward a few years, and those neighbors have moved out of the building, but they’re still my friends! We take care of one another’s cats when we travel and grab dinner at least once a month. A happy accident.”
Her best advice for anyone about to embark on a reno? Treats before the work begins! “I had this grand idea of baking everyone chocolate chip cookies and leaving them on doorsteps with a cute little note, but the renovation stress got the best of me, and quick intros were all I could handle,” she says. “If I could go back in time, I absolutely would’ve done the cookies — stress or not — those little gestures go a long way!”
This piece is part of Community Month, where we’re sharing the best ways to connect with, strengthen, and celebrate the communities you live in and belong to. Head on over here to see it all!