Should I let my neighbor perform underpinning?

What is underpinning?

Underpinning is the process of installing a new “foundation” under your existing foundation as a means of structural support. It is typically necessary when your neighbor is developing their property and their new foundation (and hence their excavation) will go below the depth of the bottom of of your existing foundation.

Of course, we’re not engineers so if you want to know the technical details and specifications of underpinning you should speak to an engineer.

Should I let my neighbor perform underpinning on my home/building?

This is definitely a question to review with an engineer.  We see a lot of properties that are damaged by improper, defective or deficient underpinning.  As a result, we handle a lot of litigation relating to damage caused by underpinning.  You should not agree to underpinning of your home or building until you have spoken to a lawyer and an engineer.

What kind of damage can result from underpinning?

There are a lot of ways that a building can be damaged by defective or deficient underpinning and we have seen a lot of them.  They include:

  • Collapse of the building
  • Doors that don’t properly close (sometimes referred to as racked doors)
  • Windows that don’t open or close properly (sometimes referred to as racked windows)
  • Floors that have become out of level
  • Structural cracking of foundation walls and concrete slabs
  • Cosmetic cracking of drywall
  • Building shifting and becoming out of plumb (i.e. looks like its leaning)
  • Facade cracking (sometimes in a step crack formation)

If my neighbor wants to underpin how do I protect myself?

We’re not be any means saying you should never agree to allow your neighbor to underpin your foundation.   If your engineer approves of the underpinning then you can protect yourself through a “license agreement” a/k/a an “access agreement.”  The license agreement will set forth the terms and conditions under which you will allow the underpinning to proceed.

What terms should be in the license agreement relating to underpinning?

First, if underpinning is permitted then the license agreement should specify that it is permitted.  Second, it should specify that your engineer must review and approve all underpinning plans and specifications and perhaps even perform periodic inspections of the underpinning (all of this should be at the developer’s cost).  Third, it should provide that if there is any damage as a result of the underpinning then your neighbor will repair the damage.  Fourth, it should provide that the developer and contractor will maintain a proper level of insurance to protect you against defective, improper or deficient underpinning.

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