“Couple Hit a Big Secret Behind This Garage Door Until the Authorities Discovered Their Scheme
Wherever there are rules, there are people using creative ways to break or at least bend them. This applies to real estate and planning regulations as much as anything else. For some, doing what they want on their property away from the prying eyes of authorities is worth the risk of prosecution.
Up until recently, the English homestead of Rita Hers Allah and Hamdi al-Masri featured the most amazing hidden feature until it was discovered by the local council. Rita Hers Allah, aged 37, and her husband Hamdi al-Masri, 39, both work as doctors. The couple lives in the small town of Enderby in the county of Light Sister, Central England, UK.
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Their home is a large two-story brick house that fronts onto a busy highway in the County District of Bleh. Part of their property is a one-car garage. The small structure would originally not be much to look at; however, Hers Allah and al-Masri have had some work done on the garage, and now it’s extraordinary, so much so that the humble space that used to house their car has gone viral in a huge and unexpected way.
The couple’s home is part of a development that was originally built in 2007. At the time, a planning condition was made with the developers that a specified area of each home’s grounds be set aside for a vehicle to be placed. In addition, all properties were to feature a dedicated garage. These measures were a bid to avoid access problems associated with excess on-street parking.
However, in October 2015, Blamey District Council received reports that a pair of residents were in breach of those regulations. On investigation, council officials found that Hers Allah and al-Masri had erected tall fencing, which prevented cars from parking in designated areas. More seriously, they had also put in an illegal access road which led directly from their property onto the busy highway. Furthermore, was what the couple had put in the tall fences to hide: unbelievably, they had effectively converted their garage into compact living quarters. But crucially, said garage formed another requisite parking area, and none of these alterations had been legally approved.
Make no mistake, planning permission is taken very seriously in the UK. No building developments which are seen as damaging to the local neighborhood or an inconvenience to the public are allowed. If it’s decided an unplanned property is in breach of its permissions, the local council can legally enforce changes. The real estate owner can appeal, but if they’re unsuccessful, they must comply with the authorities or face prosecution.
In July 2016, Hers Allah and al-Masri made an after-the-fact planning proposal to the District Council in a bid to retain the changes to their Enderby property. The couple’s application was refused. The doctors tried again in February 2017, appealing to a higher body, the National Planning Inspectorate of England and Wales, but were knocked back again.
Halfway through the same year, Hers Allah and al-Masri looked like they were going to comply with the law when they took down the illegal fencing. However, when officials traveled to Enderby for a follow-up inspection, they found a large door leaned up across the front of the garage. Imagine their surprise when they looked behind it to see a smaller door and windows. The small structure was still being used as a tiny home. The council believed an employee of the doctors lived in the converted garage, and in November 2017, they initiated legal procedures against the couple.
Among other things, Councillor Sheila Scott, in charge of planning and housing strategy at Blabby District Council, said in a press release published in early February 2018, “The message from this case is clear: if you breach planning regulations and ignore us, we will not just go away. Creating an access onto a busy highway and blocking off valuable off-road parking space was completely unacceptable.”
Indeed, on February 7th, 2018, a hearing on the matter was held at the nearby Leicester Magistrates’ Court. Hers Allah and al-Masri did not attend the proceedings. In the couple’s absence, they were fined the UK equivalent of just over a thousand dollars. They were also ordered to pay legal costs of some $1,700 and a victim surcharge of $107.
Since the report about Hers Allah and al-Masri converting their garage into a tiny clandestine cottage came out, the story has gone viral online and has racked up many newspaper column inches. The exposure prompted Hers Allah to make a public Facebook post on February 13th, 2018, about what she alleges is false information and vilification being spread by old and new media alike.
Sadly, Hers Allah detected racial prejudice behind a lot of the press reporting. She wrote, “A simple council dispute over a tiny garage within our property that we converted for personal use was made into the ‘foreign doctors that hid a house behind a propped-up garage door’ story.” She continued, “It does not feel random that this was given all the attention when there are thousands of similar council disputes.”
Furthermore, the Facebook post denied that the doctor duo had turned the garage into a separate home for rent by an employee or indeed anyone else. “This was a simple single garage conversion into a small garden annex in the house that we own, and that we own it cannot be called a separate house in any stretch of imagination,” Hers Allah claimed. “We had no intention of breaking any laws.”
Moreover, Hers Allah went on to say that the contractor the couple had taken on to complete the conversion had advised them that their modifications were permissible. They are now engaged in a dispute with this contractor over returning the property to its original condition.
The doctor also added that the garage door had only been leaned against the front of the structure to await installation, not to hide their tiny second home. “What stupid person would hide in an annex with a propped-up garage door?” Hers Allah asked under the post. “I suggest some respect to the readers’ intelligence, at least, would have been nice.”
She summed up by addressing the haters directly, “I also suggest that before you try to attack a law-abiding, hard-working couple who have been misled by the council and builders, get both sides of the story.”
Looking through the online comments that readers have left on articles about the dispute, it’s clear that some side with the doctors. Seriously, why can’t people’s homes be their own to do with as they please? Ask one commenter underneath the story’s coverage on the website of UK tabloid The Metro, “Such a shame, I say. Boo to the neighbors that reported it and boo to the planning.”
On the other hand, of course, not everyone sees it that way. A reader of the online version of the tabloid Daily Mail wrote, “If it was a separate dwelling, would it have been subject to council tax, water rates, house insurance, and if so, would these have been paid? If it was just an extension, why be deceitful about it?”
But this is not the first time property owners in Central England have tried to outsmart the authorities. Of late, in 2008, Roy and Gal Coles built a concealed cottage on their land in Lichfield, Staffordshire. They rented out the main house of the property and decamped to their secret structure.
The hidden two-bedroom house was accessed by a private road, and the exterior was made to look like a barn. The luxury dwelling, complete with a camouflaged roof and shutters to hide doors and windows, stayed hidden for eight years.
Twice in 2008 and 2012, the local authorities inspected the Coles’ grounds, officers from Lichfield District Council missed the disguised home both times. Finally, the house was uncovered when someone tipped off the council. Sadly for the Coles, they were ordered to demolish the illegal piece of real estate.
However, perhaps the most ambitious plan to hide a house in the UK was hatched in the south of England. Amazingly, Robert Fiddler of Salford village in Surrey actually built a four-bedroom castle on his farmland between 1999 and 2006.
He managed to keep the structure hidden from prying eyes beneath bales of hay. Fiddler had hoped that after the building had stood for four years without public complaint, it would become legal under a statute of limitations. However, after a lengthy court battle, Fiddler was ordered to demolish it in 2015.
As we’ve seen, Hers Allah and al-Masri’s venture was modest by comparison. Nevertheless, the doctors have been given until the middle of March 2018 to remedy the situation.
Despite their protests, they’re still required to restore their property to regulation spec, and no doubt representatives of Blaby District Council will call round soon after to confirm that the Enderby garage now houses a car and is not home to a little secret.”