Good communication is key to keeping neighbours happy when building an addition

Reporter/Byline: Muriel Draaisma, Special to


It’s important to try to keep the peace with neighbours when building an addition to your home, but homeowners must also be ready to stand their ground to protect their vision.

Robin Lanigan says he was fully prepared to be a good neighbour when he hired a contractor to build an addition to his east Toronto home.

“You don’t want to create a rift,” says Lanigan, whose 13 by 16 ft. addition was built in 2004. “You have to live with these people. It makes sense to be considerate. On our street, there is a strong sense of community.”

However, he says, he discovered it is possible to be too considerate.

Lanigan and his wife Carolyn presented their plans to their immediate neighbours before beginning the project. One set strongly objected to the length of the addition, originally 16 ft., and plans for a small balcony on the second floor, which was to give the couple a view of the trees.

The objecting neighbours said the extension would cast shadows, while the balcony would limit their privacy because it would enable the Lanigans to see into their house.

So the Lanigans changed their plans, cutting the extension by three ft. and turning the balcony into a sloped roof.

Less than a year after the addition was built, the neighbours moved.

“You have a right to build an addition if you are building it legally,” Lanigan says. “You don’t want your neighbours to feel like they are part of the creative process. You certainly regret it when they move out the next year.”

He says neighbours need their say, but in his case, “we gave them too much listen.”

Now, he suggests showing the neighbours an extremely detailed plan that maps property lines and indicates where their house appears in relation to the proposed addition. If it is already clearly laid out, they cannot feel that they are part of the planning process.

Lanigan says you should consider neighbours’ concerns — they can complain to the city, which could result in a fine or stop work order — but as long as your plans comply with city bylaws, do not let them override what you are trying to do.

Despite the potential pitfalls, it always makes sense to try to be a good neighbour when undertaking renovations, says Toronto real estate agent Sherri Henderson.

“With [some] houses, they are so old and close together that there will always be renovations going on,” she says. “Because we are so close together, it’s inevitable that there will be an impact on the neighbours. It’s important to keep it as pain-free as possible.”

In 2007, Henderson and her husband decided they wanted to add a family room downstairs, which meant digging two ft. out of the basement.

A large construction bin to store dirt was placed on the mutual driveway, causing the stones in the neighbour’s walkway to sink farther into the soil. The stones had to be reset.

When it comes to damage, Henderson says renovators need to take the high road: “You have to own up to it and repair it as soon as possible.”

She also suggests acknowledging the patience of the neighbours when the project is complete.

“At the end of it all, give them a gift. Tell them: ‘Thank you so much. I really appreciate it’,” she says.

“You don’t have to be best friends, but you want to have a good working relationship. It makes life so much more pleasant.”

First published on on February 19, 2009

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