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Tactics for Surviving Construction

When a chain-link fence goes around the property next door, it’s usually an early warning of construction to come. Survivors from both sides of the fence offer their tips about ways to minimize havoc during the building process.

As soon as the fence goes up, neighbors should call the local government office with any questions about the project and attend any hearings that might decide its fate.

Although cities use several methods to advertise these hearings, neighbors may not always hear about them, which is why a quick call to the city’s planning or building department is advisable.

City building departments can also provide construction regulations, if they aren’t posted at the site, as well as the name of the contractor and phone number if the owner or contractor hasn’t already given the neighbor this information.

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This information is vital, according to Lauren Burton, executive director of Dispute Resolution Services, a nonprofit corporation of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. offering free mediation services out of its Los Angeles, Hermosa Beach, Santa Monica and West Hollywood offices.

She strongly urges builders to meet neighbors and give them phone numbers in case of problems, noting that informed neighbors have a better idea of what to expect.

Marjorie Fish agrees. She says she and her husband would have had an easier time enduring the overhaul next to their property on the Hermosa Beach Strand if they had received assurances that the new owners would not try to grandfather in illegal apartments.

“One thing that would improve relationships on new building projects would be if the new [owners] could introduce themselves and tell you what their plans are and apologize for whatever might happen,” Fish said.

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A bottle of wine wouldn’t hurt either, she suggested.

Keeping neighbors informed about the stages of construction can go a long way toward alleviating tension, as can cleaning up any mess on neighbors’ property.

“The contractor’s responsible for cleaning up after the job,” Burton said.

If there is a problem, contact the contractor immediately, pausing only to take a deep breath first, counseled Lance Widman, coordinator for the South Bay branch of Dispute Resolution Services.

“If there is that heightened sense of anger, it’s not going to do anyone any good,” Widman said.

Then follow up that conversation in writing. If the contractor has made any promises to clean up damage, get that promise in writing.

In the meantime, document problems thoroughly for possible mediation, Small Claims Court or a lawsuit, although the latter can cost from $500 to $1,500 to initiate. Neighbors can also bar workers from trespassing on their property.

Beverly Hills Mayor Les Bronte has a much simpler suggestion: “Buy a six-pack for the construction workers and get on friendly terms with them,” Bronte said. “You can probably say things in a soft manner you couldn’t in anger.”

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And if that fails, try a little patience. It might take years--or seem that way--but the project will eventually be completed.

“There’s probably not a whole lot you can do about it,” Redondo Beach homeowner Brent McCarthy said. “Just try to have a positive attitude; it will be over, and it will raise the value of the neighborhood.”

McCarthy’s reward came in the form of pleasant neighbors. “When they moved in, they apologized for the construction,” he said.


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