They realized that their neighbors were getting suspicious, so they built a fence around their property. Now, they thought they could relax.
They tended to their project without fear and played music to mask the sounds they were making. Little did they know, prying eyes were watching them from the gap in between their newly built fence.
Reeta Herzallah and Hamdi Almasri’s home had an amazing hidden feature until someone reported it to the authorities and they came busting in.
Herzallah, 37, and her husband Almasri, 39, live in the charming town of Enderby in the UK. It’s a small town where not much happens. So this discovery took everyone by surprise.
They lived in a large two-story brick house that faced a busy highway. They had a one-car garage situation at the back. But there was much more to this garage than met the eye.
Herzallah and Almasri mostly kept to themselves. As doctors, they spent a lot of their time in the hospital, but once they were home, their neighbors rarely saw them.
Their neighbors were quiet but nosy. Naturally, they grew curious about Herzallah and Almasri, as they rarely ventured outside, even on the weekends.
They wondered what they could be doing all day. Especially when one neighbor noticed something strange coming from their garage. It drifted up into the air and dispersed into nothing, like a warm breath on a cold day.
Soon, the sighting became neighborhood gossip. Was it smoke? Or just a big puff of dust? Were they making something or building something?
Speculations rose as conclusions rolled in. From BBQing in the garage to science experiments gone wrong, everyone had their own ideas of what they were up to. But none of them could have predicted this.
Reeta and her husband knew the neighbors were beginning to get suspicious so they decided to take precautions and do something about it.
They called a nearby timber company and got to work. They built a fence that surrounded their garage. They didn’t want anyone to know what they were doing. But this only encouraged their nosy neighbors.
At first, it was just some harmless gossip that kept the neighborhood entertained. But when the fence went up, that’s when alarm bells went off.
The neighbors grew worried about what they were up to. After all, they did see something like smoke coming from their garage. And not just once. Slowly, tensions began to rise.
After the couple built their fence, they thought they would be able to relax. They continued with their project and played music to mask the sounds they were making.
Little did they know, that wouldn’t be enough to stop a prying neighbor from learning the truth about what they wanted to keep hidden from everyone.
Reeta and Hamdi arrived home from work and immediately went towards the garage to continue on what they were working on. It was a behavior that has now become a habit.
He grabbed his tools, as she grabbed the speaker and played her favorite music out loud. It was still early so they weren’t breaking any noise restriction rules. They had this all sussed out.
But what they didn’t know was how determined nosy neighbors could be. As Reeta and her husband were busy building their secret project, eyes were watching them from the gap in between their newly built fence.
They didn’t notice as these eyes grew bigger and viciously searched for the authorities’ number on their mobile phone.
Reeta and Hamdi were none the wiser when a scene was unfolding right outside their home. Neighbors gathered around as police showed up in their dozens.
Things were about to go down and the neighbors were glad to see they finally solved the mystery. No one acts that strange if they have nothing to hide. And this couple definitely did!
On closer inspection of the garage door, authorities found that it wasn’t attached. It was merely a facade — propped up to conceal what the couple had been busy with for the last few months. They had surrounded the garage with fencing to hide it from authorities.
“The development included the conversion of their garage to habitable accommodation and the erection of fencing, preventing off-street parking at the property,” said planning authorities. And when the media got hold of the story, things took a strange turn.
Planning permission in the U.K is taken very seriously. The couple had built another dwelling on their property by converting their garage into a tiny home — even though this “garage” was supposed to be a parking area to prevent on-street parking. None of these alterations had been legally approved.
The couple could appeal, but if unsuccessful, they would have to comply or face prosecution. But the false garage wasn’t the only alteration they had made…
Building developments that could be potentially damaging to the neighborhood or an inconvenience to the public are strictly forbidden in U.K. property development laws. If it is decided that a property is in breach of permissions, the local council will enforce changes.
The authorities also discovered other planning breaches,
The audacious couple had also built an extra driveway that was positioned to give them direct access to a busy highway! “The couple also undertook illegal works within the highway and created an unauthorized vehicle access onto the busy B4114 dual carriageway,” authorities stated.
“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,” Councilor Sheila Scott said.
Reeta and Hamdi had made an after-the-fact planning proposal to the district council in a bid to retain the changes to their Enderby property. But the couple’s application was refused.
They tried again, this time appealing to a higher body, the national Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales. But again, their application was refused. Months later, Reeta and Hamdi took down the illegal fencing. It looked like they were about to finally comply with the law…
However, when authorities traveled to their home for the follow-up inspection, they found a large garage door propped up across the front of the garage. The tiny structure was still being used as a tiny home.
Neighbors had told officials that an employee of the couple lived in the converted garage, and they had no choice but to initiate legal procedures against the couple.
Indeed, a hearing on the matter was held at the nearby Leicester Magistrates’ Court, but Reeta and Hamdi did not attend the proceedings. And, since the report about the couple secretly converting their garage into a tiny dwelling was released, the story has gone viral online.
But Reeta had her own version of the story, which she offered up to Facebook. And soon, netizens were in a frenzy.
Reeta says the story contains false information, has been twisted into a more negative light by the media and is highly discriminatory toward her and her husband.
Reeta felt that she sadly detected racial prejudice behind a lot of the press reporting. Furthermore, she denied the allegations that she and her husband had converted the garage into a dwelling for the purpose of renting it out… by an employee, or anyone else.
“This was a simple single garage conversion into a small garden annex in the house that we own on the land that we own, and it cannot be called a separate house in any stretch of imagination!” Reeta wrote. “We had no intention in breaking any laws.”
Reeta then went on to explain that the contractor that the couple had hired to complete the conversion had told them that their modifications were compliant with the law. They are currently embroiled in a dispute with this service provider over converting the structure back to its original condition.
Reeta posted, “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.”
“It doesn’t feel random that this was given particular attention when there are thousands of other council disputes”, she wrote, nodding to their ethnicity.
Reeta also added that the “fake” garage door had only been propped up against the front of the structure temporarily while they were preparing for installation. She claims that it was not put there to try to hide their tiny second home.
“What stupid person would hide an annex with a propped-up garage door?” She angrily asked in her post.
“I suggest some respect to the readers’ intelligence at least would have been nice!” She added. She concluded her post 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 comments that users have left on Reeta’s post, as well as on articles about the dispute, the issue is clearly a divisive one. But around half of the readers have decided to side with Herzallah and her husband.
“Seriously why can’t people’s homes be their own to [do] with as they please?” asked one commenter, “Such a shame, I say boo to the neighbors that reported it and boo to the planning.”
Reeta’s Facebook post caused a divided reaction online but the authorities were determined to carry out a successful prosecution. They were each ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, including a legal cost of $1,600, and a $100 victim surcharge, and ordered to restore the garage to its original use.
The authorities used this as a stark warning to others, “The message from this case is clear. If you breach planning regulations and ignore us, we will not just go away.”