It’s been over a month since I posted, but stop work orders tend to curb one’s enthusiasm.
Demo is done and cleaned out; all it needs are some CB2 accessories and we could rent it as a loft space. The extent of the termite damage has been revealed, though. We had found old traces on our first walk-through last summer, so we knew they had been in the house, but we weren’t prepared for quite how much — or their ability to turn thick nine-inch beams into splintered toothpicks.
It’s disconcerting the way the main floor now has a certain “spring” to it — rather like walking on a floating dock; the house that once appeared so solid now seems worryingly fragile.
We’re going to have to replace at least seven of the floor joists on the main level. It’s an indication of the Stockholm Syndrome we have developed with this house that any problem that can be fixed for less than five figures we don’t even blink at now.
The neighbor, on the other hand, has cost a great deal of time, money and effort — particularly when time equals money because we are paying rent and mortgage. We had been warned by the seller, the former tenants and the other neighbors that the owner of the one house we share a party wall with was… difficult.
We tried to start things on the right foot with with all the neighbors, giving them an apologetic letter outlining the scope and schedule of the work and giving our and the contractor’s phone numbers for any problems. A few weeks into the work, we approached the afore-mentioned neighbor because we needed to dig a foot into her property to waterproof the walls of the extension, at a point where there was only an old cement patio.
She refused us access (even though legally we could have forced the issue). Well, we explained, we would need to come onto her property to apply the brick facing to the extension later in the project. She still refused.
Our neighbor would rather stare at an unfinished cement block wall than allow us onto her property to give a nice brick facing.
Fine. It saves us $1,500 in masonry, but I feel sorry for the other neighbors in the row who will have to look at cinderblock. I’m not the kind of person who would deliberately do that to his neighbors, but here there’s nothing I can do. We moved the basement wall in a few inches for waterproofing, planned to cantilever the first floor back out to the property line, and figured we had dealt with the issue as she wanted.
Then she suggested that if our contractor gave her a good price on some work she wanted done, she would let him have access. Well, the price — current Queens above-board building prices — was not what she — old Astorian mindset — was prepared to pay.
Then suddenly we got a visit from a DOB inspector because of a complaint. Our work was causing “cracks in a party wall.” Complaints are anonymous, but there is only one party wall — on the side with this neighbor. Most people, if they had cracking, would contact the owners or the builders, show them the problem, and demand to know how they were going to make it right. We have never heard anything from the neighbor directly, and no one has seen the claimed cracks.
We heard through the grapevine she was unhappy about not getting her changes to happen at the price she wanted, and she claimed our work caused her downstairs tenants to move out. Actually, the noisy work of breaking up the slab had all been finished. But now that we were starting to demo the back wall, the noise was at her level.
When an inspector comes for a complaint, he wants to find something. It justifies his being there and brings in income for the city. The inspector had some logical things that could be quickly fixed about securing the site, railing drop-offs, etc.
However, he looked through the plans and because we did not have a plan of the underpinning — just a section — we got a stop work order. The full set of plans had been submitted and stamped by the DOB office, and they had not requested this drawing. Apparently this means nothing if the inspector decides so. A plan of underpinning looks just like a basement floor plan, with another line drawn a few inches out from the exterior walls. And all of the underpinning was already done. We got a stop work order, had to draw an additional plan, then wait three weeks for a DOB appointment for something they had not originally requested, that was already completely executed, and that they were not asking us to change.
The week before the DOB appointment, we finally heard about a variance we had filed back in April (this had already been lost once by them, despite our records of it having been filed, and had to be resubmitted). Because of the angle of the lot, for a space of less than a foot the addition would be less than four feet from the property line. It would be three feet, four inches and tapering down. Getting the variance would allow us to tie the addition wall into the existing exterior wall for greater structural stability. Also, we could have an extra window to light the basement because we wouldn’t need a support there.
The stamp says it all. Denied. No explanation, or indication of consideration.
So the plans had to be redrawn in the bizarre, structurally weaker and light-obscuring fashion dictated by not getting the variance. There was no way to finish this in time for our original appointment with the DOB, so another appointment with another week’s wait was required.
Everything has now been stamped and OK’d by the DOB office — though we now realize how little this can mean — and we are starting again. The house has been sitting open to the elements, and we’ve only lost two [expletive deleted] months.