Are contractors responsible for the impacts of their work on neighboring residents? Oftentimes, they are. This is especially true in densely populated urban areas where literally hundreds of people could be affected by a project only fifty feet away. Some of the principles in these cases are outlined below.
Excavation activities are often the cause of damage to neighboring structures. New York courts have recognized this principle since the matter of Knapp v. Cirillo (1954). In this case, it was held that those who excavate upon their own land are not responsible for damage to structures located on neighboring properties, so long as the excavations are done with ordinary care.
However, New York City limited this rationale to excavations planned for ten feet deep or less. Where excavations are planned for ten feet or more in depth, additional requirements and responsibilities are placed upon the contractor. Under this code, it is the contractor’s responsibility to protect neighboring buildings if the excavator is given license by its neighbors to enter and inspect adjoining buildings and perform the work necessary to protect them.
If a neighbor refuses to provide access to the excavator to perform necessary inspections and work, the burden of protecting this neighboring property shifts under the law back to that of the neighboring property owner.
The above rule for excavation does not actually apply to the ground itself. If the lateral support to a neighboring building should be compromised or removed, the person responsible is liable for damages to the ground, which could leave the contractor liable for either the cost of restoring the land, or the land’s diminished market value, whichever is less. These responsibilities are in addition to other continuing duties imposed on contractors, including those by code and to not damage or negatively affect adjoining properties.
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The author, John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: [email protected] or (516)462-7051
This is a general information article and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Readers are encouraged to seek counsel from a construction lawyer for advice on a particular circumstance.