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CONSTRUCTION DAMAGE: Can you sue your neighbor?

Sue for construction damage with top Philadelphia real estate lawyer

How to Protect Your Home from Neighboring Construction

The housing market in Philadelphia has flourished during the past ten years, bringing with it rising market values, new residents, increased investment and, yes, a lot of new construction. This growth may be exciting, but what happens when new construction springs up right next door to you and threatens to cause permanent damage to your home? This article will provide general information about some common issues, options for protecting your home, and resources in the event that your home has already suffered damage.

What Can Happen and How to Avoid It

Party Walls

In Philadelphia, it is often the case that the wall separating neighboring structures is what is known as a party wall. This is a dividing wall between two buildings that is common to both buildings. The wall is typically owned by both parties, and supports the framing for both buildings. Because one wall supports two structures, issues can easily arise when one of those buildings is torn down and reconstructed—which is often done quickly in an effort to complete a construction project in as little time as possible. For example, if during demolition or construction it is necessary to dig below the foundation of the wall, it is critical that underpinning is done and that it is done properly. Absent proper underpinning, your home could suffer devastating structural damage that can be extremely expensive or even impossible to remediate.

To avoid this nightmarish scenario, be proactive once you learn that construction is beginning next to your home. Confirm whether your wall is or is not a party wall, ask to see plans and permits before any work is done, and consider working with an engineer and/or a real estate attorney to make sure your interests are protected throughout the process. No matter what you are in the position to do, or how much knowledge you have, being an active participant in the process will put the neighboring owner on notice. Representatives from Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections should be on scene at least once during the project. Communicate with these individuals any questions or concerns you may have, and ask for confirmation that underpinning has been done correctly if it is necessary. While you may be hesitant to invest time, energy, and money into an issue that you did not create, chances are good that the extra effort will help you to avoid more significant problems in the future.

Nuisance and Other Construction-Related Issues

    Together with the risk of structural damage, a construction site next door can bring with it a host of other issues. Construction can be loud and messy, and this can begin to interfere with your everyday life over the course of a long-term project. For example, contractors are required to, but don’t always, follow local laws regarding the time of day they are allowed to work. In the city, parking can become an issue if construction vehicles or materials are a constant presence. While some disruption is inevitable, if the project begins to substantially interfere with your use or enjoyment of your property this can become actionable and you should consult an attorney. Additionally, materials from the construction site can end up on your property and contractors may sometimes seek access to your property to complete certain tasks. Be aware of your property rights, and know that nobody is allowed to access or to store materials on your property without your consent, no matter how brief it may be. To protect yourself in these situations, it is important to document everything that happens to the extent possible. Taking these steps will increase your chances of success should you ultimately need to bring a lawsuit to recover damages or prevent certain conduct from taking place.  

What to do if Your Home Has Already Been Damaged

If during or after a neighboring construction project you begin to notices any issues developing in your home, you should seek professional assistance immediately. Some common problems to look out for include developing mold, cracks in the walls, and signs of water damage on the ceiling. An experienced real estate attorney can put you in contact with an engineer to assess the cause and extent of the damage, can initiate a court action to halt construction if it is still ongoing, and can represent you in a lawsuit to recover damages for any harm already done. Again, it is critical to document the damage and any contacts you have had with the neighboring owners or contractors to the best of your ability. Contact our firm today at (215) 717-2200 to learn more about dealing with a neighboring construction project or for assistance in filing a court action to protect your legal rights.   

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