Articles Posted in Real Property

A recent case from Supreme Court, New York County, brings clarity to a conflict that can arise when a building that shares a party wall is demolished and the site is redeveloped without relying on the party wall.

In 145 W. 21st Realty LLC v. First West 21st Street LLC, 653241/12, NYLJ 1202792788020 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. July 26, 2017), Justice Kelly O’Neill Levy had to decide whether a new building that extends above the party wall that it had formerly shared with the adjoining building, could also be built over part of the party wall, thus preventing neighbor from ever being able to exercise its right to extend the party wall up in the future. The court followed earlier cases that favor modern construction practices, and allowed the cantilever of the new structure over the old, holding that the obligations to a party-wall neighbor do not extend to the space above the party wall.

A party wall is a single wall constructed along a property line that is used by the two adjoining buildings to provide structural support for their beams.  Typically, one half of the party wall sits on each owner’s property.  Each owner owns the half of the party wall on its property, and has an easement on the other half of the wall.  Brooks v. Curtis, 50 N.Y. 639, 642-3 (1873).

Claims involving adjoining land owners have proliferated in the last several years as construction activities in the New York City area have continued to be especially active. One area of concern, especially for builders of town houses and other residences is how to deal with party walls.  The First Department, in Ehrenberg v. Regier, 142 A.D.3d 765, 37 N.Y.S.3d 10 (1st Dep’t 2016), addressed various issues of note regarding these structures.

A party wall is a wall between two adjoining properties which exists for the common benefit of both owners. These walls provide for the support of structures on each property and can only be altered by one owner if they do not damage the building owned by the adjacent neighbor. Each owner of a party wall owns it to the extent the wall is on his property, and each owner has an easement of use and support over the wall to the extent it is on the neighbor’s property.

In Ehrenberg, the party wall in question dated to the 1840’s. After a bulge was found in a section of the party wall the Ehrenbergs removed and replaced a portion of the wall. After this work was performed it was discovered that the party wall was damaged. The Ehrenbergs commenced a legal action alleging that the damage was the result of the Reiger’s negligent maintenance of the Reiger’s side of the party wall. Reiger counterclaimed, alleging that the reconstruction and repair to the party wall undertaken by the Ehrenbergs had caused the damage.