Neighbors and condo repair situation in Somerville, MA
May 21, 2014 9:50 AM   Subscribe

My neighbor and I both live on the top floor of our condo building. He wants to fix his AC/heating system inside the shared attic, and is asking to use an attic entryway inside my apt. What can I do to protect myself in case his contractor damages my things? Please help. Thanks.

I want to be a good neighbor and tell him they can use the entryway in my apt, as long as (1) they don't break my own AC/furnace system up in the attic, and (2) they clean up after themselves. But I'm worried about what happens if the contractor causes any damage to my AC/heating system (also in the attic), my ceiling, or any part of my apt in general. What can I do to protect myself?

Details: Neighbor Bob and I live in the 2 units on the top floor of a 3-floor, 6-unit condo bldg. (Every unit is owned, no rentals.) Between our 2 units is a shared stairwell, and there is a small entryway into the shared attic at the top of this stairwell. Bob's contractor thinks the shared opening might be too small for the job, so they are asking to use a larger entryway that's located solely inside my apt. (There is no equivalent larger entryway inside Bob's apt.)

I could simply ask Bob and/or the contractor to promise to pay for any damages. But I'm wary, because recently I went through a costly situation with the condo neighbors with respect to fixing a commont element, in this case the shared roof underneath my apt's deck. We had talked about sharing the repair/rebuild costs, but I ended up paying a lot more because the deck was only for my apt - and we had only agreed verbally to share all costs. That was a learning experience.

So I'd like to avoid a sticky situation where I'm left holding the bag. Bob is a nice guy and the contractor might be a good guy too, but since any contract is between just the 2 of them, I would have no firm recourse if any damange occurred. What can I do? Is there something I can ask them about their contract that will guarantee they will pay for any damages? Thanks.
posted by miomiomio to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Depending on where you are, an oral agreement is enforceable - but I would still insist on having something in writing and signed.

You need your own written agreement with your neighbor - stating that in exchange for you providing access to their contractor through your unit's entryway to the attic, your neighbor agrees to pay for any expenses incurred - including damage repair/replacement, cleaning, etc. You can probably find a lawyer to draw up a basic contract relatively cheaply for this.
It would then be up to your neighbor to amend their current contract with the contractor to ensure that the contractor is on the hook to reimburse neighbor or pay you directly for damage they cause in your unit or to your HVAC system.

If your neighbor isn't willing to do this, or the contractor isn't - well then, they use the smaller shared access at the top of the stairs or neighbor first pays someone else to install a larger access hatch in their unit like the one you have.
posted by trivia genius at 10:28 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

In addition to the signed written agreement (with Bob) that trivia genius talks about: include plenty of 'before' photos in that agreement, so that if, heaven forbid, anything is damaged you'll have evidence that it wasn't that way before they started work. The agreement should also contain estimated work time: what dates and hours would be needed? You don't want this to drag on too many days, nor do you want the contractor showing up at 6am or staying until late in the evening.

Also, frankly I'd insist on being there the whole time: I wouldn't turn access to my home or my keys over to anyone without me being there.
posted by easily confused at 11:17 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

In addition to the excellent suggestions above, insist that the contractor provide proof of insurance and an insurance certificate naming you as additional insured.
posted by rekrap at 11:34 AM on May 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. There's a Mass. general law that requires that a neighbor notify the local police and post a bond before entering on abutting land to do maintenance work. The point of it is to have the bond in reserve in case your property is damaged while they're doing work. It's general law ch. 266 section 120B. I don't know if it's applicable to condos, that would be a question for a lawyer.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 12:00 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

the shared entryway at the top of the stairwell is the entryway the original builders intended for use by contractors accessing the AC/heating. why is it too small for this contractor? his body, a toolbox, replacement parts, what else do they plan to put through there that won't fit?

you know, when you let this stranger traipse through your place, he's gonna wanna use your bathroom. you have no idea if he's casing your artwork for a future visit when you're not there. you give him a key and he'll make a copy, insist on staying there and now you're a servant to his schedule, so....

"no bob, i learned something from the last time. once bitten, twice shy and all."
posted by bruce at 12:06 PM on May 21, 2014

Thank you all for your answers. I will tell Bob we'd like to have a written agreement, as trivia genius and others have suggested above.

One detail I forgot to mention is that my entryway may provide the only access to the front of the attic - where the contractor may need to work in. So they may have no choice in which entryway to use. I will have to double check. It doesn't change the picture in terms of my wanting to be protected and prepared.

bruce - The contractor thinks that the shared entryway may be too small for the parts of the HVAC system that needs to be transported up into the attic. It's big enough for a person to climb through but that's about it. When I had my own HVAC system redone several years ago, my contractor back then (different guy) also judged the shared entryway to be too small. So he just used the entryway inside my apt, and even with that one, he had to cut up the ceiling a bit to enlarge it, just so he can bring up the parts.
posted by miomiomio at 12:46 PM on May 21, 2014

Okay, if there's a possibility of your ceiling getting cut open to widen the entry: another paragraph to the written agreement, stating that the ceiling entry will be rebuilt (and painted!) to your satisfaction.
posted by easily confused at 1:59 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good news: Bob was ok with signing a written agreement. Then he asked his contractor to double-check if they can use just the shared entryway, and now it seems the contractor says yes. (All this could have been avoided if the contractor decided so from the beginning, but oh well.)

easily confused - It's now moot, but your point is a good one. From Bob's latest email, it sounds like the shared entryway might be getting cut open to widen it. So we the condo residents will want to make sure it will indeed be rebuilt and repainted properly once all the HVAC work is done.
posted by miomiomio at 2:25 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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