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Am I liable if I accidently damage a neighboring property?

During renovations, you may be opening up walls in your home, removing trees, repairing fencing, and the like.  It is possible that during renovations you could damage a neighboring property.  Falling trees, dust spreading to other apartments, and torn down fences are all potential scenarios in which you could be held accountable for the damages that you or your employees inflict on a nearby property.  Our /real-estate/New York City real estate attorneys discuss some liability issues that may arise between neighbors.

Were the Damages Foreseeable?

Take the following scenario:  A co-op owner was conducting a remodel when some dust migrated into a neighbor’s apartment through a hole in the wall.  To remedy the situation, the contractor on the project went to the neighbor’s home and patched a hole in the wall and moved a stove in the process.  Now, the neighbor claims her stove is broken and has requested compensation for the damages.

In assessing liability, it is important to first consider whether the homeowner sent the contractor over to repair the problem next door.  If so, then the contractor can be considered the homeowner’s agent and this could give rise to liability.  If not, the contractor alone may be liable.

Even if liability does exist, there are limits on what damages for which a court will hold a neighbor accountable.  Generally, you will not be responsible for damages that were not foreseeable under the circumstances.  Using the example above, you may be responsible if the contractor dropped the stove, rendering it broken while moving it.  However, you may not be responsible for the refrigerator breaking due to the increased electrical output stemming from the stove being moved.

Another common situation homeowners face is trees falling on a neighbor’s home or garage.  If a tree on your property falls on your neighbor’s property through no fault of our own, you will generally not be responsible.  If, however, the tree fell due to your negligence, which could include failure to trim a clearly dead branch, then you could be held accountable.  Consult with a real estate attorney for help with liability issues that can arise between neighbors.