eEnjoy schadenfreude? Well, you’re in luck, there’s a big-box chip coming – fully prepared on my own tunnel. Earlier this year, I wrote about how my family transitioned from a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan to a spacious (affordable) Philadelphia balcony home. “I made a very good choice in life,” she exclaimed in a column. And for a while, that seemed to be the case. We luxuriated in all the new space and marveled at how quiet our new home was compared to New York City. Despite sharing the wall, we couldn’t hear our neighbors at all.
There was a good reason for that: we didn’t have any neighbors on one side. I thought they just went on vacation. However, it soon turned out that the house next door was empty. Furthermore, the tenants seemed to have left in a hurry. There was a fire pit in the garden, and in it was a half-burned piece of wood. There was a deflated paddling pool hanging to dry on the fence. And weirdest of all, it looks like someone was digging a strangely shaped hole on the deck. I have consumed many true crimes in my life; My imagination became wild. Were the neighbors laundering money for the mob? Were they afraid under the cover of darkness because their bosses realized they were embezzling money? Were they killed? Were they lying dead in the basement?
It turned out that the truth was much worse. A simple espionage revealed that the house was owned by a real estate developer (who describes himself online as a “dissident”) who had permission to convert it into apartments. This meant demolishing the interior of the original house and adding three floors in the back garden. Cute for him, I think. Not good for my toddler’s nap schedule, or since I work from home, I enjoyed my sanity. I raised these concerns when the developer showed up at our door a few weeks ago to tell us demolition was about to begin. “Ah, it wouldn’t be that bad,” he said. “This project is raising the neighborhood!” Then he jumped in his car and ran out of the neighborhood.
My (well annoying) wife and I deal with stress in different ways. It prevents stressors. I open the door as wide as it is available to them, and say, “Hey, so glad to see you! Let’s get to know each other better.” As she continued her work, ignoring the fact that we would be experiencing nonstop noise next door for the foreseeable future, she immersed herself in Philadelphia’s building codes. In England, you need to jump through quite a few hoops to do such intense work when you share a party wall with someone, and take steps to ensure the safety of your neighbour’s property. However, in Philadelphia, homeowners have very few rights when it comes to building next door. Your only real option is to hire a lawyer and sue the developer if your home is damaged in the process.
This, by the way, is shockingly common. Philadelphia is full of old balcony homes and there have been a frightening number of home falls due to arrogant developers. We live close to a house that broke the news because residents had to hastily vacate it a few months ago, after developers hit the building when doing demolition work next door.
The wave of meltdowns means the city of Philadelphia will finally put laws into effect next year that offer some protection for homeowners from neighboring development. Sadly, that doesn’t really help me now: my living room is shaking and the noise is pushing me up the wall; My only resort is noise canceling headphones and wine. However, I have to constantly remind myself that, as a mother of a young child, I am used to noise. When you live through Baby Shark on repeat for the 90th time, you can live anything.