What Are Your Rights When It Comes to Nearby Construction?
Construction noise can be a nuisance for homeowners and apartment dwellers, so it's important to know your options.
Construction equipment like a jackhammer or pile driver often must be permitted for use because they can exceed decibel levels established in many city ordinances.(Getty Images)
Construction near your home can be a headache, whether you live in an urban area experiencing significant new development of condominium and apartment buildings or in a suburb seeing rapid expansion.
From early-morning drilling to blocked sidewalks and street lanes, many residents are inconvenienced by construction projects that can last many months, and the growing number of those projects can cause ongoing suffering in residents' work and home lives.
Most state and city laws specify that residents have a right to quiet enjoyment of their home, which includes limits on excessive noise from nearby properties under construction. Here's what you should know about dealing with nearby construction, including your options for making it a little less inconvenient.
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Construction in Your Building
If you live in an apartment and construction is going on in your building, excessive noise that's disrupting your work or relaxation time can feel personal. This kind of disturbance should be taken up with your landlord or with the condo or co-op board, which likely approved the work.
Check your lease or building bylaws for details about what times construction is most likely to be disruptive. It’s common for a landlord or building community to restrict building construction to between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or stipulate that construction won’t occur during summer when more residents are home during the day, says Christopher Totaro, a licensed real estate salesperson for Warburg Realty in New York City. (Warburg contributes to the U.S. News Pocket Listing blog.)
You can also try communicating with the contractor in charge of the work. “Talk to the project manager or the general contractor. Start with a nice, friendly conversation,” Totaro says. Having previously worked in construction, Totaro says he would often check with neighbors when he would oversee a project, and ask about times when kids need to nap or other special circumstances that he could work around to avoid animosity between residents and the construction crew.
The best course of action is to try to work with your landlord to find solutions that will reduce your inconvenience while the construction proceeds. If you work from home and live in a large building, it’s possible the landlord can offer you use of a vacant apartment or business center away from the construction noise during your work hours. Another option is for the landlord to notify residents about precisely when excess noise is expected.
If the building work makes it impossible for you to continue living there, you could pursue a constructive eviction, which means the landlord has been unable to fulfill your right to quiet enjoyment, effectively ending your lease.
“A landlord is not allowed to harass through construction,” Totaro says, noting that New York laws specifically address issues of landlords trying to force rent-control tenants to end their lease by doing so much construction that they wish to leave. However, those laws don’t exist everywhere, and if a landlord disagrees with a claim of constructive eviction, you may have to argue your case before a judge, who will determine whether you owe money for the remainder of the lease.
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In many cases, city ordinances identify specific decibel levels for various times of day. Any noise that exceeds the designated decibel level is considered a nuisance to the surrounding community.
Construction equipment like a jackhammer or pile driver can easily violate this level, and as a result must be permitted for use with the city so local officials are aware when construction noise will be excessive.
Unfortunately, nearby residents aren’t always notified of permitted loud work going on, even if it’s after normal working hours, which often extend from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. but vary based on local ordinances and are shortened on weekends. When you are bothered by excessive noise, document it by filing a formal complaint with your city. This way, any unpermitted noise can be investigated, and you may also get more details about how long any permitted noise is expected to last.
Who Do You Call to Make a Construction Noise Complaint?
Many U.S. cities keep noise complaints under the jurisdiction of the police department and recommend residents call the local precinct’s nonemergency line to file a complaint, as you would if your neighbor was having a loud party. Local government websites often provide details on how to file a formal complaint.
The New York City government, for example, has streamlined the construction noise-complaint process by creating online forms to report the location of the noise and time. Separate forms allow you to report after-hours construction, construction during permitted hours that's too loud and noisy jackhammers, which require additional permitting to be used in the city. These complaints can also be reported by calling the city’s nonemergency reporting number, 311.
Boston handles the noise-complaint process differently. The city delegates complaints about construction sites and equipment noise to the Boston Air Pollution Control Commission and lists construction sites with approved after-hours work permits on its website.
When It’s Not Just Noise
Construction near your home isn’t always just a noise issue, as a nearby worksite can mean blocked sidewalks, damaged roads and even structural damage to your home. Heavy-duty work can cause vibrations in the ground strong enough to damage your property. John Zeigler holds a doctorate in organic chemistry and is the author of “The Construction Vibration Damage Guide for Homeowners,” which serves as a guide for identifying vibration damage from nearby construction, how to document it and properly file an insurance claim.
Vibration damage can appear in the form of cracks on concrete patios, slab floors, door or window frames and in the corner of a room, Zeigler explains. He has reports on over 500 different construction projects homeowners believe have caused vibration-related damage to their homes.
“In most U.S. locales, insurers routinely deny coverage under homeowners' policies by invoking ‘earth movement’ exclusion originally intended for earthquake damage,” Zeigler says.
You’ll likely need to work with an attorney to pursue a claim against either a private developer or the local government – depending on which is funding the construction – especially if the damage is estimated at over $10,000.
As with simple noise complaints, Zeigler stresses the importance of documenting the problem with dated photographs, reports from structural experts and any correspondence you have with the city or a developer. You'll want to keep track of the damage itself and equipment and procedures used at the nearby construction site, as well as use a seismograph to monitor vibrations. Otherwise, he says, “any damage claim is virtually certain to be denied.”