When the Neighbors Get Nasty

Had a fight with your neighbor? You're not alone. Elevators, loud music, animals and solar heaters are all causes of disputes that sometimes end up in court

Owners in one Ramat Gan apartment building decided to improve their quality of life and install an elevator to provide access to the apartment entrance on each floor in the somewhat old building. To do so, they called a meeting of all the apartment owners in the building, obtained the consent of a majority, as required by law, and started moving ahead with the plan. However, one apartment owner objected to the plan, even though he lived on the top floor, and refused to share in the installation costs.

In order that this stubborn owner not have the opportunity to use the elevator whose installations cost he refused to share in, the apartment owners in the building decided the elevator would not stop on the floor where he lived. The obstinate doctor did not give up and one night quickly made an opening in one of the walls of his home and saw to it that the elevator would stop there and service his apartment.

The other residents who discovered this the following morning sued him and in the compromise reached among the parties, it was determined that this resident, who later sold the apartment, would not use the elevator until he paid his share of the costs.

Music and dogs

Another dispute, also related to an elevator, divided apartment owners, in a building in the center of the country when the owners decided to restore elevator operation after an 18-year lapse. The contractor who built the building installed the elevator, but it stopped functioning after two years with the consent of the apartment owners in the building at the time. Since then, ownership of several of the apartments changed hands and some of the new owners objected to resuming elevator operation and refused to share in the costs. The dispute went to court, which ruled that elevator operation could resume even without the consent of all residents and that the holdouts against resuming elevator operation would also be asked to cover the costs - based on their relative share of the joint property.

Elevators, as just about every apartment owner in any building knows, are not the only cause of dispute between neighbors: loud music, practicing on a musical instrument, apartment expansion, a noisy air conditioner or a barking dog can all lead to serious, painful and endless disputes among neighbors that make life in the building unbearable. In the best case, the disputes end in vocal arguments, creative retaliatory actions and neighbors not talking to each other. In the worst-case scenario, disputes go to court.

"In principle, the main issues that are cause for arguments in apartment buildings include anything that falls under the heading of common property: the roof, external walls, elevators, shelters and heating, water and garden facilities," says attorney Sami Yisrael, the legal adviser of Ha'aguda Letarbut Hadiur (The Association of Better Housing). According to him, in general apartment owners' actions are as a rule regulated by law.

As far as elevators are concerned, says Yisrael, until the enactment of the Land Law regarding the installation of elevators in existing buildings, the consent all the apartment owners in the building was required in order to do so. In 1995, the law was amended and today the consent of two-thirds of apartment owners is sufficient. A building permit is also required from the municipality. According to Yisrael, the law stipulates that apartment owners who decide on the installation shall bear the costs.

By law, apartment owners may decide that only some of them will bear the costs because the higher the floor, the greater the need for elevator service and therefore it is reasonable that a resident of the fourth floor should pay more than a resident of the first floor. A resident of a ground floor apartment does not need elevator service and therefore it is unreasonable for him to have to pay for it.

Nevertheless, says Yisrael, the law stipulates that all apartment owners must share the regular maintenance costs of the elevator. He adds that among the supervisors, who discuss the various disputes in the courts, there is still disagreement over what to do about an apartment owner who did not pay for the installation of an elevator but does pay maintenance costs: is he or is he not permitted to use it. Supervisor Miriam Arieli determined in a ruling she made some two years ago that whoever did not pay for installation may not use the elevator and will be exempt from paying for the maintenance. The second approach, advocated by Efraim Cohen of Petah Tikvah, maintains that even those who objected to the elevator and did not pay for the installation but do pay for maintenance may use it.

As mentioned, apart from elevator installation, building extensions, apartment expansions, installation of solar water heaters or any type of antenna and the addition of balconies are flashpoints for disputes among neighbors. According to Yisrael, in all matters related to apartment expansions, the law has changed over the years in order to facilitate things for the residents, but nonetheless, the issue is the source of quite a few disputes.

Until the amendment of the Land Law in all matters related to apartment expansions, says Yisrael, the consent of all apartment owners in a building was needed to expand apartments. "The idea underlying the law was that the expansion affects the common property and therefore the consent of all residents is needed, but this created an unbearable situation wherein one person could hold all the others by the throat and block the expansion." Yisrael adds that for this reason, the legislature amended the law and determined that for the purpose of apartment expansions the consent of 75 percent of the apartment owners is enough to permit the expansion of an apartment in a multistory building. Naturally, doing so requires a building permit from the municipality. The process is simple: convene a general meeting, describe the proposed expansion and hold a vote.

This also applies to the residents' collective decision to jointly expand their apartments. Sometimes one resident objects and then only part of the building is refurbished and the result is ugly. The law stipulates that after the refurbishments if there is consent from 75 percent of residents then even those who did not agree to the refurbishments must pay for them. However, despite the revision of the law, many building expansions encounter opposition from other apartment owners and lead to disputes between them. In a Ramat Aviv building, for example, the owners decided to add a room to each apartment. One resident refused to do so and the result, on one floor, the expansion includes pillars only, with no floors, walls or windows, which makes the building very unappealing.

Boiling point

The law, as mentioned, is a decisive factor in resolving disputes. However, sometimes an unclear law or one that is not enforced serves as fertile ground for disputes and gall on the part of apartment owners.

Thus, for example, Ha'aguda Letarbut Hadiur in Be'er Sheva recently received a complaint submitted by an apartment owner against a neighbor who installed a solar boiler on the pergola he built for himself in the garden. The neighbor even went as far as covering the boiler with the same wooden pillars used in the pergola in order to conceal his actions. The neighbor explained the that boiler was placed where it was because only there could it absorb solar heat and most effectively benefit from the advantages of a solar unit.

The owner of the pergola asked the neighbor to remove the boiler and after he received a negative response, approached Ha'aguda Letarbut Hadiur asking it to require the neighbor to remove the boiler. As far as installing water boilers, says Yisrael, the law stipulates that in essence, each resident may install a boiler on the roof without the consent of the other apartment owners. The absurd thing is that a building permit is needed to do so, but the authorities do not enforce this requirement. This enables every resident to install a boiler wherever he wants without a permit or the consent of others and the results are often the installation of boiler in odd places and highly disputed.