As the old saying goes, good fences make good neighbours….good fences and well soundproofed party walls in the case of semi-detached homes.
If you, like many Torontonians, live in a semi-detached home, you are probably all too familiar with your neighbours. You may know their own schedule like the back of your hand… knowing when they shower, when they get home from work, or the number of times their baby wakes in the night crying are all part and parcel with living in a semi, specifically if the wall that separates your homes is older, in need of repairs, or just not as soundproofed as you may like.
As you may have guessed, there really is no ‘party’ in a ‘party wall’, the legal term used to define the wall that separates two semi-detached homes. As with many homeowners of older semis in the city of Toronto, you may be considering renovations to your property. I thought it would be a good idea to share some insight on managing expectations, discomfort and the entire process of home renovations (especially when it comes to dealing with neighbours) when you live in this style of property.
First of all, it must be said that if you are planning on doing any renovation that will affect the party wall in question (such as attempting to further sound proof, seal cracks, or shift/replace any supporting beams to that wall), the city of Toronto requires you to notify the homeowner of the adjoining property, and seek approval before commencing any work. The agreement is called a Party Wall Agreement, and a neighbor signing one in essence limits your liability to any issues that arise to their side of the wall during the renovations.
Now if you are on good terms with your existing neighbours, you may find that during the course of the retrofits, your relationship with them may begin to turn sour. After all, they will be dealing with excess noise, dust, and overall discomfort while the work is being completed. Do your best to acknowledge this by taking in mind some of the following tips to help ease any added pressure that may be building up as a result of your planned changes.
– Let your neighbor know well in advance about any planned renovation. Inform them of the scope of your project, your expected time frame, as well as contact information in case they run into a problem and need to get in touch with you or your contractor. Its also a good idea to go over, talk to them, and take pictures of their side of the wall, so you can be sure of the current state, that way it will be easy for you to accept responsibility for any damage caused. As a contractor, I always make a point of being part of this conversation between neighbours (and the photography session too!)
– Get a feel for your neighbours schedule, and try to be considerate of their work schedule and sleep schedule. Do your best to schedule work with your contractor at times that your neighbor will be at work, their kids in school, etc.
– Be clear with your contractor about any restrictions that you have agreed upon with your neighbour, but remember that if there are any issues, you will likely have to be the one to rectify them. While your contractor may take great care in cleaning up their mess on your property at the end of a work day, they will likely not be so considerate of your neighbour’s. Be prepared to clean up litter, debris, and other construction mess that may find it’s way to your neighbour’s lawn.
– If there is street parking in your neighbourhood, be very mindful of where your contractors will be parking, along with other construction equipment. Don't forget the dumpster, as this tends to be what usually causes the most problems. People hate having dumpsters in front of their homes! If at all possible, try to keep the bulk of construction vehicles and equipment on your own property. If not possible, try to schedule with your neighbours the particular days during construction where you expect additional vehicles. This way, aggravation from double parked cars, driveway blockage and limited street spots can be kept to a minimum.
– Check in with your neighbours often. Invite them over to see the progress, or stop by with a small gift for them acting as a peace-offering for any particularly trying days throughout the project. At the end of the project, be sure to invite them over for a tour so they can see the finished work, give them a gift and be sure to toast them for their patience.
In spite of all of this advice, be prepared for the fact that some neighbours will become very disgruntled during renovation projects, and some still will never get over it. If up until now you’ve always easily brushed shoulders with the Jones’s next door, don’t take it too much to heart if once the project is complete, they no longer wish to be so friendly.
Also remember that this advice can work the other way around too. If it’s your neighbor that is planning the work, try to put yourself in their shoes and be as cooperative and friendly as possible. Chances are that any improvements to their home may indirectly increase the value of your home too. Be sure to take photos of your party wall pre-construction, that way if any damage is done, you’ll be able to address it with proof that this was not done by you and seek compensation if necessary.
What are your thoughts on the party wall, renovations on semi-detached homes and how to be a good neighbor during renovations and otherwise? Please feel free to share your comments below, and as always, let me know if you have any questions at any time. I’m always happy to provide advice!