Q: My neighbor burned down his condo. A firewall stopped the fire from spreading to my condo which is adjacent. My neighbor rebuilt his condo. In his rebuild he tore down a concrete foundation wall (cracking my ceilings in the process), that I have been told was meant to prevent the building from collapsing out on to the property. He replaced the concrete wall with a wooden wall that is only 5 feet from my front door.
The original firewall had a 30-inch concrete parapet that divided the two roofs. My neighbor built a wooden deck attached to the firewall. The city says all he has to do to provide me with the same fireproof protection is to spray a fire retardant onto the wood deck.
When he rebuilt his condo he built a roof line higher than the original building, with different gutters, and different windows. The building is no longer uniform.
I sent numerous emails, photographs and called the city of Atlanta during both the construction and inspection process. Atlanta has responded answering that the construction met international code.
Is this legal?
A: I spoke to a real estate attorney who suggested that you check whether your neighbor’s reconstruction complies with the terms and conditions of any documents that affect your home and your neighbor’s home. If you live in a condominium development, you should have the condominium documents that would spell out what each owner’s obligations are with respect to their units.
Most condominium associations require a homeowner to obtain the consent of the association to any changes to the aesthetics of a building when they reconstruct the home. Your documentation may have this kind of restriction.
This attorney also indicated that in many condominium developments, the association would be responsible for the reconstruction of common elements. In many condominium developments, the structural frame of a condominium is considered a structural element for which the association carries insurance.
It may be that you live in a homeowner’s association in which each owner is responsible for his or her own home. Even in a loosely formed homeowner’s association, there is documentation relating to the basic ownership rights between the homeowners. One of these basic rights would relate to the sharing of structural walls and structural support, and in some cases the review of any aesthetic changes to structures.
The attorney suggested you check to see if your neighbor complied with the terms of the association’s declaration and other documents pertinent to the condominium association. If your neighbor followed the terms of the association’s documentation, you may be out of luck.
You may have one possible claim against the neighbor. The real estate attorney mentioned that in many states, you, as a homeowner, have the right not to have neighbors make use of their land which could affect your property. In some states, neighbors are required to provide support to foundations and structures prior to constructing their homes. In other states, they must notify the owner that may be affected by the construction to afford that owner the right to support his own structure. If the damage to your home is significant due to the neighbor’s construction, you may have a claim against the neighbor for that damage.
While the owner may have complied with the building codes, you need to dig a little deeper to make sure that the neighbor complied with the requirements of any documents that affect your property and his property. At that point, you may want to talk to an attorney to determine if your neighbor failed to comply with any other laws in the state in which you live and any other ordinances that relate to his rebuilding of the home.
For a legal opinion of the situation, you should contact a real estate construction attorney or litigation attorney with expertise in local building codes to review your documents and the situation with you determine if you have any legal options at this point.
Jan. 19, 2009.