From the Forum – Shared wall…who pays?

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Shared wall…who pays?

“My neighbor has gutted their house and removed a kitchen add-on and the room above it. Now on my property, where we had a shared wall, my insulation and dry wall is exposed and covered with a tarp. Part of the roof that we shared has been cut away exposing wood. We discovered the floor joist under their demolished kitchen also run under my kitchen. The joist are still there but need to be cut away on their property. They have asked me to share the cost in stabilizing my kitchen once the joist are cut. When their kitchen walls were removed we could see my stove vent extends into their property about three inches. They want this removed at my cost. This is the original vent from when I purchased this house 20 years ago. I don’t have the time or money to be part of their re-hab. What are my options?”

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41 Comment

  • Get thee a local real estate attorney, STAT.
    Though, it seems pretty crazy/unfair that you would need to pay money due to their construction. It’s not like they’re undertaking this project on your behalf.

    • Yeah, your option is to hire an attorney. You’re going to need one.

    • Second this.
      Generally speaking, if your neighbors undertake a renovation that damages your property, they are liable for the costs of the damage. If any part of your home needs to be stabilized because of the work they are doing, they are responsible for the costs.
      Ordinarily, I would not advise “narc”ing on someone who is doing a garden variety renovation of their home but in this case, since it is clear that what the neighbors are doing is having a huge effect on your property, I would advise you to contact DCRA. The floor joist is a pretty huge structural issue, and you should make sure that these folks have the proper permits for the work they are doing.
      The vent thing is interesting. Ordinarily, they should have the right to remove any part of your home that protrudes on to their property. But the fact that this vent has been there for 20 years might make this more complicated. You might have acquired a right to have the vent stay where it is, which you could use as leverage to get them to pay to move it somewhere else. Again, try to find a lawyer.

      • Be careful here — I don’t think this is accurate. Your neighbor will only be liable for the damage if they are negligent. For example, if your addition wasn’t constructed correctly and your neighbor’s renovation exposed your improper/not-to-code construction, then it’s your problem, not theirs.

        • If your home is in fine shape before a neighbor starts doing renovations, and it starts to experience problems once the renovations begin, you’ve got a pretty good facial argument that the renovations caused the problems. The neighbors can always try to rebut that argument, perhaps by saying that some particular part of your property was not up to code and that’s why the problems occurred. But I think it will be an uphill battle for them. The code violations may have nothing to do with the damage that occurred.
          In any event, the neighbors here would not be asking the original poster to share in the cost of stabilizing her own kitchen if they did not have some reason to expect that the kitchen needed to be stabilized before the shared floor joist is cut. If the neighbors ignore that need and something happens, they will be on the hook for the damage.

    • Get a lawyer. Real property laws are weird and vary widely by jurisdiction. It’s worth your dollars to consult a lawyer.

  • I’m pretty sure in these situations you can simply refuse and the neighbors have to pay the full cost (happened to my girlfriend when replacing a fence). It might sour your relationship with the neighbors, but hopefully they’d be understanding.

  • Typically both neighbors share the responsibility for maintaining a party wall. However, what’s going on here is weird. I thought that in order to build, remove or alter a party wall you had to get your neighbor’s permission. Did you sign anything in order for them to get the permit? And are you absolutely sure that your vent extends onto your neighbor’s property? Eyeballing it doesn’t count when you want someone to pay for something, so your neighbor will have to get a survey done. Besides a 3″ encroachment might be considered a “de minimis” encroachment, and one that your neighbor can either live with or fix him- or herself.

    • I should add that you’re in an area of the law that even most lawyers don’t understand very well, especially those who don’t deal with real estate boundary disputes regularly. The very first post advising you to get a real estate lawyer is the best advice you’re going to get here.

      • +100. you need expert advice here from a lawyer who specializes in this area (and who isn’t me).

    • You typically don’t need a neighbor’s permission, but you must notify them. And the 3″ stove vent sounds both “de minimis” and potentially grandfathered in under some sort of adverse possession doctrine. Lawyer up.

      • this is not adverse possession.

        • The stove vent is the least of anybody’s concerns here. Worry about the stabilization of the structure first, stove vent later.

      • You are so completely incorrect. Go check out any building permit with DCRA where it clearly requires notification and signature of the adjoining neighbor for ANY work being done on the party wall.

        Anyhow get yourself a real estate lawyer ASAP and I’m talking from experience after I did everything right including getting signed agreement with my neighbor but that still didn’t stop him from being a jerk when our relationship soured many years after work was completed to everyone’s satisfaction.

        • That was my thought. A few years ago we tore down the fence between our property and our neighbor’s and replaced it with a low masonry wall with a wood fence above; I remember having to get our neighbor’s permission before we submitted the permit application. Luckily we have a good relationship with our neighbor so it all worked out.

        • No, you’re wrong. You have to notify them, but their permission is not required to perform the work. The notification letter is simply is required so the adjoining neighbors are aware there is work being done and the type of work that is being done. The DCRA recommended letter also gives the neighbor the right to allow or deny the contractor access to their property in order to protect the neighbor’s house from damage during construction. If the neighbor does not grant this permission or doesn’t respond to the letter, the neighbor takes the responsibility of protecting their own property from damage.

          The neighbor is not required to respond, nor is a homeowner required to obtain permission from their neighbors to do work. If that were the case, nothing would ever get built.

          • That’s for work along a property line. To alter a party wall, which both people own, I’m pretty sure you need permission.

  • Wow- seems like a major screw up on a past renovation. I’ve never seen any extensions with shared walls. I have at least 6in – 1ft on either side of my extension on my one home. Though I have seen them with few space in between and always wondered if they were left unfinished since there is no room for them to install the siding.

  • Lawyer up!

  • IANAL, but it sounds to me like the letter writer’s house is the one with the shoddy renovation. If removal of the neighbor’s extension revealed the LW’s insulation and dry wall, it means the LW’s part came after the neighbor’s part, probably slapped up for cheap against the neighbor’s existing wall, in the hopes that it would never be discovered. Which means that the LW’s house is the problem. You buy a house, you buy its problems, known and unknown.
    But this is idle speculation. It’s lawyer time.

    • Not sure about that, mainly because of this floor joist issue: “We discovered the floor joist under their demolished kitchen also run under my kitchen. The joist are still there but need to be cut away on their property.” Is it possible that the extensions were built at the same time and just done super cheaply, with no structural party wall between them? If so, there’s going to be a mess to untangle. Either way, get a lawyer.

      • Elementary question:
        What is a party wall?
        I live in a rowhouse. It’s my understanding that the walls between the rowhouses on my block are brick – then space/plaster – then – brick. Is my brick wall a party wall?

        • A party wall is a wall — usually but not necessarily brick — that straddles the property line between attached houses. For example, in my house we have drywall, studs, and then brick. Continuing on from there, my neighbors have their half of the brick wall, studs and then drywall. I’m not doubting your configuration, but I’ve never seen anything like that (brick/plaster/brick). If a place hasn’t been renovated in a while, I’ve seen plaster on both sides with brick in the middle, but not the other way around.

          • It could be the case that your building and that of your neighbors were built at the same time, but the PP had their building built next to their neighbor sometime after their neighbor’s building was completed.

  • Yep . . . time to lawyer. Here’s a pretty good description of the common law principles applicable to party walls, though the statutes and courts in a particular jurisdiction (e.g., DC) may vary from common law and you’ll need an attorney familiar with DC property law to advise you:

    As a general matter, absent a contract or easement to the contrary, each of the owners of a party wall owns as much of the wall as sits on her property. Each can use the wall, but cannot do anything that damages the other owner’s use of the wall. It sounds like your neighbor has severely damaged your party wall and may/should be liable to repair it. Good luck!

  • if he doesn’t have the money to cover the repairs, what makes you all think he has the money to “lawyer up”. what a world.

    • A couple hundred bucks now for a lawyer, or potentially thousands later? Either way, OP is going to lose some money, so may as well minimize the loss with proper representation.

    • When you’re choices are “lawyer up” or “watch your house fall down around you”, you do what you gotta do. In this case, if the OP is in the right then his/her attorney’s fees are going to be a lot less than what s/he’s looking at to correct major structural issues.

    • The damage would be potentially be covered by his home insurance… Again I’m talking from experience; now if he isn’t doing things with permits etc and using unlicensed contractors his insurance company would have grounds for denying the claim but that is a different story.

  • Easy first step: log onto; “online services”; check permit status online. See if they have permit issued for work. Second: if the work affects party walls they needed to ask you to sign a form notifying you of common boundary work — you can sign and they are responsible for keeping your property safe; if you did not sign they can still do work and you are responsible for own damage.

    • “you can sign and they are responsible for keeping your property safe; if you did not sign they can still do work and you are responsible for own damage”
      Is there a they/you mixup here? Because it sounds like there’s all kinds of incentive for your neighbors to make sure you don’t sign.

      • They are required to notify you by Certified Mail with the letter. You have 30 days to respond.

      • NP here, no uglybetty is correct. This is exactly how it worked when we built an addition on our party wall. We were required to notify our neighbors and if they didn’t acknowledge receipt then they would be on their own if there was any damage. If they did, our contractor’s insurance covered anything.

        In this case is the construction permitted? If it’s not then this is a major problem. If it is, you need to work out whether they caused the problem or if your house was constructed poorly and it’s your problem. We had some similar issues. Neighbor’s porch was resting on ours and not structurally sound on it’s own. When we removed our porch he had to shore up his. It wasn’t our responsibility. Likewise, our other neighbor’s wall was constructed inside our property. As part of our permit process we were required to pay for an independent surveyor to carry out a “wall check”. Surveyor determined the property line and we had to inform neighbor that his wall was in the wrong location.

  • I could be wrong and am neither a lawyer nor a real-estate professional, but your description of your property, your neighbor’s property, and the problems that are becoming evident during your neighbor’s renovation are raising about 12,000 red flags for me. I suspect that you and your neighbor both have illegal, unpermitted, not-to-code additions to your houses, quite possibly built by the same builder at the same time by the previous owners of both your house and your neighbor’s. If that is the case–and I honestly do not know but can’t help but suspect that it may be–I don’t have any idea what laws might apply here (one homeowner’s renovation of an illegal addition jeopardizing the already-shoddy structural integrity of another homeowner’s illegal addition?)

    • The part that got me is that the OP shares the same structural joist with his/her neighbor. Is this common in DC? I’ve never heard of that situation before.

      • No f*cking way.

      • I wonder if it could be common among a set of identical row houses that were developed at the same time by the same architect.

      • I don’t think that’s common at all. Floor joists do no go through party walls. Maybe the floor joist in the neighbor’s house seems to be holding up the wall? There could be a situation where the wall is in such bad shape that they have reason to believe that removing it may cause a problem. I still don’t think the OP should have to pay for that. I think we are missing something here….

  • I’m intrigued by the fact that there is a house in DC that people are making SMALLER by removing an addition!
    (I know, presumably they will rebuild something there, but there’s no mention of that in the description above).

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