Neighbor cut a hole in his attic roof!!!!

corgilvrJune 26, 2012

I live in a designated historic district and have gotten along, really well, with much younger neighbors. Their son (a toddler when we moved in) has now reached a challenging age and they (both very employed beyond the school day) want to now house him in the "attic". Because they are more concerned about his perceived "safety" than their parental rearing responsibilies, have started construction of an attic egress to accomodate their relief from his behavioral challenges. His "room" will now be the attic of their home! That's where we stored out of season clothing and "stuff".

I am concerned mostly about the structural change and its future impact on my property and peace. (That impacted by parental choices kid will be gone long before we forget this experience.) I am also concerned about the "egress" and how it may impact property values in the future as it may result in profitable rental possibilities. I don't want a "fire escape" next to my bedroom window! We are within a city block of two colleges!!

I live in a larger, per square foot, home on a larger lot. These homes have been one family dwellings since the 1850s. Our "codes" office has been made aware of the concern. The hole has already been cut into the roof!

These folks have put their home "on the market" in the past. No one was willing to pay their price.

Advice and support will be greatly appreciated.

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Has a building permit been issued? Where I am, permits affecting the exterior of the house have to be approved by an architectual review board with the neighbors given ample time to voice their opinions. I can't imagine a roof stairway blending in seamlessly in most historic disricts.

Sounds like terrific parenting skills: the kid acts out so they give him his own apartment with a separate entrance. What kid wouldn't love this setup - he's free to come & go as he pleases without any supervision; it might be a great place for a meth lab!

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 12:50AM
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If you live in a "designated historical district" work done on the exterior needs to pass the review board (as well as city permits), correct? So why not call the board office and ask whether your neighbors have received the required permits? If they have not, get the board/city involved in the transgression. If they have they are free to complete the work.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 7:15AM
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Most historic districts are more lenient when it comes to parts not visible from the street. The exception would be if any easements have been granted, then it can be as strict as defined in the easement.
So a skylight or fire escape on the rear elevation is usually permissible.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 7:22AM
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"more concerned about safety than parental rearing responsibilities"

Is it possible that they're not banishing him to the attic, but that he simply loves the space? When I was a little girl, I loved our attic. I even drew plans to finish it out, complete with where to put a stairwell, and gave the plans to my parents, who sadly, admired them politely, but never did anything. Grownups, why can't they drop 20K when we have a cool project idea?

I agree the egress needs to go through proper approvals, but for the sake of the many years you will probably live next to your neighbors, please cultivate some respect, or at least a little bit of live and let live. When you live next to a family, you are privy to it all--the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'm in the thick of raising 3 kids. We take discipline very seriously, and most of the time, they present well to the neighborhood and the world at large. But even the most promising future upstanding citizen has his or her moments, and as a neighbor, you're going to catch them at their worst sooner or later. It's like what they say about sausage--you wouldn't want to see it being made at the factory. You're living next to a kid factory, and it's going to be ugly sometimes, no matter how good the kid's potential, or how devoted the parents.

The people whose friendship I respect and value the most are those who have seen me at a compromising time, and found it in their hearts to give me the benefit of the doubt, and continue to treat me like a respected and valued friend. This sort of positive attitude is the grease that keeps human relationships moving harmoniously.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 7:57AM
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You clearly do not have children of your own...

And just because a child has entered a "difficult" stage, it doesn't mean they're going to run a meth lab out of their bedroom *eyeroll*

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 11:00AM
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Just have a couple things to add to this: my mother and her three sisters grew up in a house with their grandmother. She occupied the first floor, my grandparents and my aunts and uncle occupied the second floor (living room, kitchen, etc) and the bedroom for all 4 girls was in the attic. I don't think that any of them, or anyone aware of their sleeping arrangements found it odd in the least, and certainly no one felt banished to an undesirable part of the house. It was a finished attic with insulation, just like any other part of the house. You may have also guessed that this house had a fire escape off the second floor, being that it was a two family dwelling (even though they were all the same family). As a child and to this day, I found the fire escape pretty darn neat. My grandmother still owns and lives in that very same house, with the very same fire escape on the back of it. It is also one of last nice houses in an urban neighborhood that has deteriorated somewhat over the last 30 years, and the house with the fire escape is probably doing a pretty good job of helping keep property values UP in that area.

When I was 12, my parents finally gave in to my begging and built me a room in the basement of our house, so I could escape my brother's snoring. I was happy as a clam down there, and again, there was no feeling of banishment. It was a real room, I wasn't sleeping on an army cot propped up on paint cans. I had my own exit through the garage, though I was able to resist the urge to turn my room into a meth lab. Now that all the kids have moved out, it has become the desired guest room for various overnight visitors to my parents house because it is out of the way, quiet, and right next to the second bathroom in the house.

Also, when my brother was going to college in Boston and had rented a room in a second floor apartment, one of the first things my mother bough him was a fire ladder to hang out the window. So yes, to many parents, safety is paramount when you talk to them about their children. I'm not sure how you reached the conclusion that because they're building a room in the attic and are concerned with how he is going to escape the smokiest room in the house in the event of a fire that they are somehow shirking their child rearing duties. It sounds like you have had an axe to grind with them for some time over other issues, and this is the latest one, so perhaps they're not the easiest people to live next door to.

However difficult they may be, safety always trumps property values. Are there any zoning restrictions for two family houses in your district? That may be worth checking into, to soothe your mind somewhat over what the future holds for the house and its potential to become a frat house with college kids bursting from it's seams.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 12:33PM
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It meets building and zoning codes or it doesn't.

Now that you've done your civic duty and informed on the malefactors, it's out of your hands--though you can always turn the screw further and sic children's services on them.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 12:55PM
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Because they are more concerned about his perceived "safety" than their parental rearing responsibilies

Isn't being concerned about your child's safety a parental responsibility? You make it sound like those things are mutually exclusive. To me, adding a egress sounds like the responsible thing to do.

His "room" will now be the attic of their home! That's where we stored out of season clothing and "stuff".

I store my stuff in our third "bedroom". Should I be offended when other people with similar houses to mine use that room as a bedroom? It's where I store my stuff!!

As worthy said, if they have a permit then there is nothing you can do. If they don't, you've already informed the authorities. Just let it go and move on with your life.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 3:27PM
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I was joking about the meth lab, & no, I don't have kids nor do I have an axe to grind. But I do live in a national & city historic district where I've seen this type thing start the ball rolling for eyesores & multi family rezoning. Whatever behavioral problems (temporary or permanent) this child has shouldn't be allowed to dictate or degrade the historic district & the properties therein. Historic designations are designed to preserve the architechture & - not the whims of the owners. The family bought knowing the restrictions. If the rules are not to their liking, maybe it's time to move to a neighborhood that can accomodate their needs.

Corgilvr, I think you have a perfect right to be upset about this & you &/or your neighborhood association (assuming their is one) should fight it for all it's worth. The district & it's property values shouldn't be held hostage because one family has an unruly child.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 3:31PM
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Me? My father transformed our attic into a 4th (and MY) bedroom when I was 8. I LOVED having the entire floor to myself, loved the fact that, being an attic, it was all alcoves and neat spaces. I lived there until I was 23 and left home to get married.

So obviously, I see nothing wrong with a child having the attic, and unless you're a part of the family, I'm not sure you really could have the information needed to come to the conclusions you've reached--but that's your business, of course.

And it's also your right NOT to like that the neighbors are installing a fire escape. Personally, I think it's the responsible thing to do with a child on a level that would be difficult, if not impossible to reach should there be an emergency. We didn't have one, and I know it was something that troubled my father for all the years I lived up there--he even commented about it to my husband on our wedding day, that he'd always been afraid he wouldn't be able to get to me if there was a fire.

However, your rights do end where the law and regulations begin--if they've done everything according to code, if this is permitted by the historical designation, if there are no violations, then it's the sort of thing you have to suck up. At that point, you have a few options--'come around' and accept the situation, put drapes over your windows that face the abomination, or.... sell your home to someone who doesn't mind the rennovation and move to an area where you have a more scenic view.

Actually, I know a neighborhood where one home owner painted their home a lovely shade of lavender. This wasn't a little tract home, either--it was a huge Victorian in one of the most expensive and exclusive historic (early 1700's) towns in the country (if I dropped the name, you'd recognize it). The townspeople were up in arms. They complained, wrote letters to the newspaper, demonstrated--without effect, because the home owners were doing nothing wrong. That house was lavender for many, many years. Frankly, I found it much more acceptable and attractive than the garishly bright yellow one a block away--all in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 9:48PM
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Current egress codes for safety, (and current codes for ADA access in public spaces) will trump historical designation.

Independence Hall, one of the most historic buildings in the US, has a large wheelchair ramp on the Walnut Street elevation, for example.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 12:32PM
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I doubt if your gonna make your complaint fly with the historic district...My home is in the middle of the municipal historic district in Westfield,Mass and it was originally built in 1796.

When you enter the front door you come into foyer with Dutch doors on both the interior & exterior end, then you step into the front entrance hall where you see a huge ornate stairway to the second floor on the right and an archway into the 25'x40' living room on the left, however on the back of the house there is a small standard door and when you come in that way you step into a small 4x4'landing with a door to the left that enters the kitchen and a narrow winding staircase straight ahead that goes up to the main hallway on the second floor. The master BR is directly over the living room, only the BR is much larger because it has an L shaped setee area & a door that opens out onto a veranda over the front porch.

Now back to the tiny stairs at the back. At the top of the stairs you turn left down the hall about 5 ft and enter a room that was converted into the bathroom sometime in the late 1800' to early 1900's. At the far left rear corner of the bathroom there is another door, which opens to a stairway to the attic. The attic has not one but four unheated bedrooms plus there is a 36'x36' room with hardwood floors and huge dormer windows. The space in the attic was originally installed as servant quarters and right in the middle of the attic there is a staircase right up to the roof rafters, with a scuttle hole door on top for access to the roof to do roof repairs or clean the chimneys....and nearly every house in this community from that period has either the scuttle hole on the room or they have dormer windows in the attic space.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 2:40PM
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Wow, I wish that was the biggest problem I had with my neighbors. Can I move to your neighborhood? :)

I would think that a permit would be absolutely necessary for a modification like this. Also, if you live in a historical district, then I wouldn't worry *too* much about the look of the neighborhood being changed. To be perfectly honest, I would have given my right arm for an attic bedroom when I was a kid. A finished attic/extra bedroom is a great selling point for a house. I don't really blame them for doing it and again, if you're in a historic district, then I am certain they're not going to be allowed to do anything too crazy or too invasive to you. Thank heavens we live in an age where it's no longer legal to build your house right on top of someone else's property line, eh? Best of luck to you, keep us updated!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 3:42PM
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Current egress codes for safety, (and current codes for ADA access in public spaces) will trump historical designation.

Not exactly. Sometimes historical designations prohibit new uses of space when they require outside renovations to meet code. Good luck attempting what the OP's neighbor is doing in much of Cambridge MA--you'd never get a hearing. You are simply told no by the receptionist at the building department, and that is as far as you would ever get.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 1:18PM
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