Mike Holmes: When renovating in a semi-detached, here’s why you should give the neighbours some notice

Be a good neighbour: Let the people in the adjoining semi know that you've got renovations planned. Structural changes may affect their home, too.

Mike Holmes, Special to National Post | February 21, 2015 |

The Holmes GroupBe a good neighbour: Let the people in the adjoining semi know that you’ve got renovations planned. Structural changes may affect their home, too.

Renovations can cause a lot of stress, not just for you but also for your neighbours. This is especially true if you live in a semi-detached home.

The work you do on one side of that common wall can affect the house next door, especially if the work involves the structure — work such as underpinning and anything involving the floor and ceiling joists that tie into the common wall. Even just drilling can cause cracks in the lath and plaster or drywall next door.

So, at what point do you get your neighbours involved?

It’s good practice to let your neighbour know renovations are going to happen — just as a courtesy and to help keep that relationship in good standing. I’ve seen major feuds between neighbours last for years because they didn’t have a five-minute conversation about the work they were planning.

It also depends on the kind of work you plan to do.

If you’re just replacing the cabinets or a countertop, it’s not essential to get the green light from your neighbour. But if it involves structure, electrical or any mechanics that could affect their home, you should definitely let them know. In fact, you might have to so you can get the proper permits for your renovation.

When you apply for a permit, the city will tell you if you need to inform your neighbours or if they need to sign off on anything. Every municipality is different, so call your local building authority to make sure.

Some cities might even require you to get a permit for common walls, or a party-wall permit, which is an application you fill out after you’ve informed your neighbour about the work. By filling out the application, you’re essentially saying your neighbour is aware of the renovation and is fine with it. (And yes, you will be in big trouble if you fill out the application and they don’t know about it.)

If you live in a semi-detached home and it turns out you do need your neighbours to sign or agree to something and they don’t, you will not be able to get the proper permits you need for the work you want done.

If you live in a semi-detached home and it turns out you do need your neighbours to sign or agree to something and they don’t, you will not be able to get the proper permits you need for the work you want done.

Some of you might consider skipping the permits. That’s probably the worst thing you can do. You would put your safety, your house and your neighbours’ house at risk — and you’d be on the hook for everything, plus damages. Not to mention your neighbours can call the city and tell them you’re working without permits. And that means big trouble for you.

What if the tables were turned, and suddenly one day you were to hear people next door hammering and using machinery, and you had no idea they were renovating. Would you/should you say something?

Again, it depends on what they’re doing.

It’s easy to tell if they’re making major changes — a big disposal bin might be outside, lots of materials would be being thrown away, many tradespeople and workers would be coming to the property, and construction would go on for days.

Small renos and upgrades don’t take long; they shouldn’t last more than a couple days. If it’s a major reno, there should be a permit on the window. You can call the city and give them the permit number to find out exactly what kind of work is going on next door, and whether you should be concerned.

If you want to bring someone (for instance, a contractor, engineer or home inspector) in to check out the work and if it’s affecting your home, you take on that cost. It might be worth doing, but don’t expect your neighbours to pay for it.

A good rule of thumb is that if there’s going to be noise, vibrations, fumes or dust that will affect your neighbour’s living space, notify them. (Also, some municipalities have noise bylaws.) Even paint fumes can be an issue, especially if there are small children, an expectant mother, or someone with respiratory problems.

The bottom line? Communication is key, so talk to your neighbours to make it right.

Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit makeitright.ca.

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