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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide




Spotlight on: Avoiding Renovations From Hell

New York City

Renovations Don't Have to Be Awful
Dec. 16, 2014

It really doesn't have to be this bad.

Nipping Issues in the Bud

Boards should be able to review plans for each step of a renovation process — and they should communicate these rules to shareholders as early as possible. The clearer the rules and the earlier they are revealed, the less trouble there will be down the road.

Boards should also explain to owners that no matter how simple or complex a renovation may appear to be, if required under statute, they must file all renovation projects with the buildings department and other governmental agencies, such as the landmarks commission.

These administrative city reviews take time — as long as six weeks or more in some cases. Boards must make sure that owners follow all municipal regulations, and that they understand the time lag between the filing and the start of work.

And Here We Go…

Before any alteration project gets under way, building superintendents, along with the owners' representative, should perform walk-throughs of all common areas and neighboring apartments. This will help the building better evaluate charges of damage that may come later on, and help settle disputes in an efficient, fact-based manner.

Boards should collect security deposits that are sufficient to cover any damages resulting from any renovations. Every alteration has some impact on the property as a whole — whether it is a simple scratch in the hallway wallpaper or a huge gash in a neighbor's wall.

Boards should consider bringing in an acoustics expert or a special engineer to review alteration plans. Whatever the situation, it is wise to hire skilled consultants and then pass their charges along to the owner performing the alteration. The cost is very small compared to the average renovation budget, and everyone in the building will appreciate the extra effort.

Owners Beware

Owners must be realistic about how long a renovation will actually take. A contractor may promise that a project will be completed in six weeks, but it is best to get a second or third opinion — and then double the estimated time to avoid false expectations.

Owners must also understand that old plumbing does not always accommodate modern water usage, and must make sure plans are compatible with a building's existing plumbing and electrical service.

Being Strict Doesn't Make You a Jerk

Boards, managers, and owners must ensure proper cleanup procedures are followed. Boards can cut down on complaints and potential damage by making cleanup a part of a contractor's daily work routine from the beginning.

Boards must also strictly control the hours during which renovation and alteration work may be conducted. Limit the work hours allowed in a building to accommodate the living habits of the owners. Once a board sets work hours, make sure the contractors know and uphold them.

Boards must make sure that the contractor has insurance with the proper amounts to indemnify the owner, board, and managing agent. Boards should consult their attorneys and/or risk management agents to verify they are in good shape to avoid, as much as possible, any damages or lawsuits, and set proper insurance limits for the building.

Boards can also protect themselves and their buildings by obtaining lien waivers from all contractors. If a contractor does not pay its subcontractors, liens may actually be put on the building in which work is being done. To avoid this, proper waivers should be obtained before returning any escrowed funds.

If boards are upfront about procedures and follow through once a renovation project begins, renovations will have a greater chance of going as smoothly as is possible. without putting off building residents and leaving boards stuck dealing with a nightmare.


Adapted from "Renovation Blues" by Paul J. Herman (Habitat, December 2003)

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