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Ask an Expert: Do I have to let workers onto my terrace to repair the building next door?

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Q.  The apartment building next door is demanding access to my terrace so they can repair their facade. They say I have to let them and that I will not be able to use my terrace while they are doing the work.

Do I really have to? If so, is there any limit to how long they can have access? Am I entitled to compensation? Who pays if they damage my terrace or plantings?

A. Your predicament is not unusual, according to our experts, and there is a good chance that you do, indeed, need to allow the repair work to be done from your terrace.

"Provided that the adjacent building owner can demonstrate that the only way that it can effectuate the repairs is by entering onto your terrace, Section 881 of the New York Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law requires that such access be provided," explains real estate attorney Tracy Peterson of Braverman Greenspun in Manhattan. "This statute was enacted in recognition of the fact that buildings often abut each other’s property lines and furthering the public interest of preventing the urban blight that would result if repairs could not be made due to adjacent landowners refusing access to one another."

If you refuse access and the adjoining property owners go to court to get a license permitting them to enter, the court may grant it “in the appropriate case upon such terms as justice requires,'" says Peterson.

In other words, she says, "If the terrace will be obstructed for a four-month period running from May 15 to September 15, a court could determine that monetary compensation be provided to address the loss of use of the terrace during prime season."

Compensation is optional, concurs co-op and condo attorney Dean Roberts of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, and the amount depends on the facts of the situation.

"If the parties cannot agree on an amount, the determination is normally set by a judge pursuant to a lawsuit," says Roberts. 

The adjacent landowner is always liable for damages incurred as a result of entry onto the terrace, says Peterson.

"Before allowing work," says apartment insurance broker Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage, "the other building should provide you with written proof of insurance showing that the building carries workers compensation and general liability insurance. You should be named as an additional insured for general liability, and you should have a written contract with the building stating you will be an additional insured."


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