Toronto

Feud over renovations turns east-end semi-detached house into battleground

An ongoing project in an east-end semi-detached home has triggered a bitter feud between the two households who live there — prompting the city to remind homeowners to clearly communicate with their neighbours about potentially disruptive renovations.

Talk to neighbours before embarking on renos, city advises

Nilisha Shah, who moved into her home in January, says her neighbour's reno has been causing headaches for the past nine months. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

An ongoing project in an east-end semi-detached home has triggered a bitter feud between the two households who live in the building — prompting the city to remind homeowners to clearly communicate with their neighbours about potentially disruptive renovations.

Nilisha Shah, who lives in one half of the semi in the Queen Street East and Greenwood Avenue area, says the problems began just a few months after she moved in with her husband Prashant and their six-year-old daughter in January.

Her next-door neighbour, Valerie Connelly, began renovations on her half of the property, which is separated from the Shahs' home only by a so-called party wall, in April, Shah said.

Renos included a two-storey rear addition, a basement walkout, conversion of an enclosed front porch into a living space and other interior alterations, according to city records.

But by mid-November, the project had racked up five building code violations.

One of the animals that Nilisha Shah says invaded her crawl space due to damage caused by a neighbour's renovation project. (Nilisha Shah)

Shah says her neighbour's renovation project has caused cracked and water-damaged walls, an infestation of raccoons through a crawl space wall, broken windows — and sleepless nights.

"This has changed our life in many ways," she said. "With seven, eight raccoons living right there, we had to close off all the vents and not use air conditioning or anything during June, July ... because we couldn't take the smell.

"At night, my daughter could not sleep in her room because we didn't want to leave her alone there. So we all had to just cramp up in one small room."

Connelly declined to speak with CBC Toronto.

This semi-detached home in the Greenwood and Queen neighbourhood has been the site of a dispute between the two homeowners for the past nine months. (Mike Smee/CBC)

She maintained in an Oct. 28 email that the real problem lies with the city, which she said is impeding her efforts to build a home for her ailing mother, an accusation the City of Toronto's chief building official Will Johnston denies.

"We expect property owners to carry out that construction in a way that it meets all of the city requirements," he said.

"And when we become aware of those issues, we work with the property owner and the builder in order to bring those issues into compliance with the city regulations."

The city's website says Connelly's infractions include building without a permit and four other instances in which inspectors found deficiencies in building practices. 

Johnston says almost all of those problems have since been remedied, although problems with water seepage remain.  

The city's chief building official, Will Johnston, advises homeowners to communicate clearly with neighbours well before they embark on a potentially disruptive renovation project. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

And he says it's not unusual for a home renovation project to be flagged by building inspectors as often as Connelly's project has been.

What is unusual, he says, is neighbours not being able to work out their differences in a timely manner.

"That's a rare incident," he said.

'Hot mess'

It appears that the problems began with Connelly's first contractor, who was not experienced enough to tackle a project of this size.

That contractor was replaced after a couple of months on the job, but the conditions he left behind were "a hot mess," according to Jhon Bermudez, one of the most recent contractors on the project.

"The foundation wasn't poured properly ... They went ahead and started framing the first floor knowing that the foundation was all bad," he said, "so we had to take everything apart and start from scratch."

Water damage in the home of Nilisha Shah, which she says has been caused by seepage from her next door neighbour's home. The neighbour's reno project has been going on for nine months, Shah says. (Nilisha Shah)

Shah says her relationship with Connelly has now deteriorated to the point that she's had to hire a lawyer to demand that the problems with her own home be fixed.

She says she's racked up thousands of dollars in bills for pest control experts to get rid of the raccoons, cleaning, re-insulating and engineer's fees.

Shah says she's waiting for Connelly's project to be finished before she proceeds with other repairs, which she says include broken windows, cracked walls and drywall damaged by water seepage.

Johnston says most homeowners manage to maintain relations with their neighbours in the midst of a noisy, sometimes damaging, renovation. But he offers this advice:

"Prior to construction happening, it's really critical that ... those two property owners come together and they have a discussion around what is the type of construction that's going to take place, what measures are going to be taking place in order to protect each other's property," Johnston said.

He says it's important for neighbours to have a good relationship and they have open communication right from the start, before the project starts.

"By having that in place, you do minimize a lot of the impacts."

now