Latest News 2017 November My Contractor Damaged a Neighbor's Home-Do I Pay for It?

My Contractor Damaged a Neighbor's Home-Do I Pay for It?

A recent real estate Q&A in the New York Times presents a slightly complex question: are you responsible when your contractor potentially caused damage to a neighbor's property? The story presented in the question is this: an apartment resident's contractor allowed some dust to filter into the neighbor's apartment during a kitchen remodel. The contractor then went into the neighbor's apartment to patch a hole in the wall.

Following the contractor's repair, the neighbor claimed that the stove no longer worked. The renter offered to pay for repairs as a friendly gesture—but the neighbor insisted that she needed a brand-new stove (as well as kitchen alterations).

So, is the resident responsible for the contractor's (alleged) mistake? Do they have to pay?

Manhattan real estate attorney Eric Sherman says it depends on what the resident said to the contractor. If the contractor was asked to patch the hole, then he was acting as the resident's agent—making the resident liable for any damages as a result. However, that only applies to "foreseeable damages." In this case, the contractor directly handled the stove to patch the hole, so it's plausible that he caused damage to the appliance.

In cases where the damage wasn't foreseeable, then the resident isn't liable. For instance, if the neighbor claimed that moving the stove caused a crack in the floor on the other side of the apartment, that's less plausible (and not foreseeable).

However, if the contractor went to fix the hole without input from the resident, then any damages are his liability.

In Conclusion…

Ethically speaking, you can choose to pay for your neighbor's damages without admitting that they were your fault. You don't become legally liable for being a good neighbor. However, if your neighbor is demanding greater and greater sums of money for the alleged damages, you may need a lawyer. Ask for proof that your contractor caused the damage—if that prompts them to file a claim, you should be prepared with an attorney.

If they don't offer any proof, you have the right to refuse to pay—even if that makes for some awkward patio conversations.

Categories: Landowner Liability