How to handle a situation involving a neighbor and uncertain future for a shared property?

brick wall gutter down spout

Anonymous emails:

Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with the situation below:
We live in Center Square and we share a demising wall with a neighbor that has aged significantly. While we value her as a neighbor, we are concerned about what happens to her home when she passes away since we share a wall. Furthermore, we are concerned that she has no inheritors that will take responsibility for her house. So many houses are left in limbo in Albany and it takes many years for them to actually come on the market. What are some things we can do as proactive neighbors to avoid a bad situation?

Very often the best path is to start a polite discussion with the neighbor about an issue like this. (Or, really, about anything -- it's good to know your neighbors.) Sometimes that's not possible, though. And it's true that sometimes properties can fall into an in-between state of ownership that makes it difficult to address problems. Pretty much every neighborhood in Albany (and we suspect most other cities around here) have at least one or two houses that are stuck in this sort of state for all sorts of reasons.

So, this is an important and sensitive situation. Maybe you have a constructive suggestion to offer Anonymous? If so, please share.

Comments

I watching something like this happen in the Mansion Neighborhood. Two houses connected - one was abandoned and in disrepair. The woman kept complaining to the city that it was structurally affecting her home. The city did nothing. Eventually the abandoned house fell, damaging her property by bringing her house down with it. The city moved her into another house. She wasn't happy but it was better than being homeless.

I have two different suggestions, both require you to communicate openly and directly. The first is to assess IF there are any current wall issues or issues that are developing (ie bricks are okay but will need re-pointing, bows in wall). You should hire a Mason to inspect the wall from basement to attic on BOTH sides, so you'll need to talk to your neighbor about your concerns about the dividing wall and ask her permission for your contractor to inspect it. (don't ask for any contribution from her for the preliminary inspection---that would be unfair as these are your concerns and not hers) To the extent work needs to be done, you and your neighbor can figure out how to apportion the costs--while she is alive and living there. Second, informally, the next time you have her over for tea or dinner, tell her that if she ever decides to downsize that you'd love to be able to have the chance to buy the house from her! That may be the opening for her to let you know that her grandson the dentist is interested in it too. :-)

Go gently. good neighbors can be both treasured and easily damaged.

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