Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on January 26, 2022
Good fences may make good neighbors. But bad neighbors can definitely make for more expensive facade repair jobs. Just ask Leon Geoxavier.
“Sometimes the protective measures are worse than the disease,” says Geoxavier, an architect at Stone Engineering & Architecture who’s overseeing a mandatory facade repair job at a 16-story, postwar condominium on the Upper East Side.
That job got complicated even before it got under way, thanks to a next-door neighbor who had just renovated his four-story townhouse and was unhappy with the condo’s Site Safety Plan, which is mandatory for jobs on buildings taller than 200 feet or 14 stories. The plan, which had won approval from the Department of Buildings, called for workers to install protection on the townhouse roof – which meant the owner of the townhouse had to agree to allow workers to enter his building and carry plywood and lumber up four flights of stairs to the roof.
“The next-door neighbor didn’t want workers traipsing through his home and installing protection on his roof,” Geoxavier says. “The lawyers went back and forth about what would be permissible. It didn’t look like there was going to be a solution.”
In New York City, more so than in most locales, time is money. As its legal bills mounted and the project bogged down, the condo board began to grow frantic. “It was a thorn in our side for many months,” Geoxavier says. “We couldn’t even work on the side of the building that faces the townhouse.”
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So Geoxavier went back to the DOB, and a workaround was agreed upon. Rather than installing relatively inexpensive protections on the townhouse roof, the condo board agreed to erect street-to-roof pipe scaffolding in the 10-foot service area between the white-brick condo tower and the townhouse, including netting to keep tools or debris from falling onto the townhouse roof. Geoxavier estimates that the extra scaffolding, legal fees and lost time added about $50,000 to the job’s $3 million price tag — not a back-breaking number, but still an unpleasant surprise.
“It was expensive and unfortunate for my client,” Geoxavier says. “Sometimes neighbors are very cooperative and things go smoothly. But if you have an obstinate neighbor, it can add a lot of time and cost to a project.”
To add insult to injury, one of the three neighbors on the back side of the building demanded $1,000 a month in rent to allow a sidewalk shed to be erected over a service space. “If you ask me, that’s a bit extortionate,” Geoxavier says. “It was not usable space.”
As with the added scaffolding, the condo board swallowed hard and agreed to pay the rent. “They just want the project to be finished,” Geoxavier says, adding that the project, which was also hampered by pandemic-induced delays, should be completed in about six months. “They were happy to get a workaround that keeps the project moving.”
Could this impasse have been avoided? Early in the project, Geoxavier advised the condo board to open a dialog with the townhouse owner. “One board member told me, ‘No, no, no, we’re good friends with that neighbor,’” Geoxavier recalls. “You’d be surprised how fast good friends can turn into enemies. If you do a favor for a neighbor, my advice is to make sure you have a reciprocal agreement. And try to tackle these arrangements as early as possible, even before the project begins.”
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