Question: We have lived in the same house for over a decade and have always gotten along well with our elderly neighbor who is a widow whose husband died before we moved here.
We’ve kept an eye on her during lockdown, bought her groceries and whatnot and she always seemed very grateful. Recently she had a fall at her house and she told me her daughter was coming to live with her to take care of her which seemed like a great idea.
But the daughter came and then, without warning, the builders, who began to expand the garage that stands between our houses and convert it into their own apartment.
The worst thing is they added a window that now looks straight into our garden and extremely bright outdoor lights that are really intrusive.
I called to discuss the work in progress but my neighbor’s daughter was quite rude to me and just said the garage has always been there and she must have a window to look out of.
My husband is furious and says they are breaking planning laws and wants to report them to the authorities but I am torn. I don’t want to quarrel with the neighbors and I suspect even if we reported them the authorities wouldn’t do anything, so what’s the point? What should I do?
Reply: This is a difficult situation. On the one hand, you want to protect the privacy and value of your property. On the other hand, you want to maintain good neighborly relations.
Personally, I always value good neighborly relations above all else. Even with the best house, within the best zip code, hostile neighborhood disputes are exhausting. And let’s be honest, nobody wants to feel like they’re being scrutinized every time they put out the bins!
At the same time, good neighborly relations are built on the foundation of mutual respect. Your neighbor’s daughter, or rather your new neighbor, doesn’t seem to have received the note in this regard. At the very least, she should have told you she was planning construction, if only to prepare you for the noise.
From a legal point of view, I shared your dilemma with Ciarán Leavy, Partner and Head of Commercial Litigation at Lavelle Partners. He says that a garage attached to the back or side of a house can be converted for domestic use as long as it’s less than 40 square meters and is already attached to the existing house.
If it is more than 40 square meters or is not attached to the existing house and is to be used as a separate dwelling, planning permission should have been obtained.
If planning permission was required and not obtained, Leavy says you have the right to report the issue to the local authority for investigation.
If your neighbor’s extension doesn’t require planning permission, a complaint can still be filed with the planning and enforcement division of the local authority having jurisdiction regarding the window, Leavy says. The complaint was intended to detail how the window “caused an immediate loss of the amenities of your home and, moreover, how it seriously compromises your privacy.”
“The municipality can then investigate and, if necessary, issue an enforcement order against your neighbors, which can lead to the development being stopped and/or at least the window being removed.”
Still, Leavy strongly advises that you try to resolve the matter amicably before taking the disputed route, “even if that means making concessions in some cases.”
I also shared your dilemma with Chris Dunne, who is a member of the One Resolve mediators panel. He provided a framework for navigating this situation that begins with defusing the anger your husband feels “as decisions made in the fog of emotions are prone to error.”
Once you’ve reached a point where you’re both “reacting, not reacting, to the situation,” he recommends taking out a piece of paper and exploring the range of possible outcomes related to preferences, best to worst.
Examine your concerns about construction and your relationship with your neighbor separately, he says. For example, one side of the piece of paper should consider your options regarding the garage remodel and might include “leave as is,” “mitigate the effects of the window through fence or trees,” and so on. The other side lists the possible outcomes related to your relationship with your neighbor and might include “we’re relatively friendly,” “we’re cooperative,” “we’re conflicted,” and so on.
Once you’ve considered all the possible outcomes, he suggests setting up a meeting with your neighbors and possibly bringing an objective third party to facilitate the conversation.
Of course, it’s also worth considering any preconceived notions about your neighbors’ intentions. As Nat O’Connor points out in Age Action, your neighbor may not be as excited about the garage conversion as it seems.
“Anyone who takes on the role of caregiver for an elderly person should be careful not to exceed their authority. A caregiver is not “responsible” for an elderly person, he emphasizes.
“The daughter in this case should support her mother in living as independently as possible and that includes finding out about her mother’s neighbors and supporting her mother in maintaining the apparent positive relationship they have had over the past few years has enjoyed.
“The situation should never lead to a compromise between support from a carer or neighbors,” he adds. “If her mother had been properly consulted, she probably would have wanted her daughter to follow planning law requirements and, just as importantly, talk to her neighbors before undertaking any construction work to see if the work could be altered to avoid to upset her.”
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https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/my-elderly-neighbours-daughter-has-moved-in-and-built-an-extension-thats-intrusive-41409378.html My elderly neighbor’s daughter moved in and built an annex which is intrusive