Friday, June 07, 2013

Springtime in San Francisco

I live in a construction zone. Last year, the building next door to mine, which had two floor-through flats with fireplaces, balconies and a lovely garden, was sold. The gentleman who had rented one of the units for 25 years was given two weeks to move. He is a cellist with the San Francisco Symphony, so it was challenging for him to find another place while meeting his performing obligations. The new owners are a pair of sisters whose parents bought them the property with a family trust. They spent six months throwing loud parties in the garden, and then in January, I saw them overseeing the loading of their belongings into a moving van. I was momentarily elated.

The mother was standing on the sidewalk with one of her daughters. I asked if they were moving out, and was told that they would be doing some construction on the house and were moving out for the duration. I asked how long they anticipated the work to last and was told it would be 9 months to a year. Without thinking, I blurted out, "You mean 9 months to a year of hammering and machinery noises?" The mother smirked and said, "That's what construction means, doesn't it?" She turned on her well-manicured feet and minced up the stairs.

The work began in February and we have been living with non-stop jackhammers, sledgehammers and all manner of heavy equipment for 10 hours every day including Saturdays and Memorial Day. Work begins (with a bang) at 7:00 AM and ends around 5:00 PM. The entire building is being gutted and extended 12 feet into the backyard on all levels. My next door neighbor came home to find her large bathroom window, an Eastern exposure that brightened her hallway as well as her bathroom, sealed with knotty pine one inch from her window ledge. It has since been cemented over so she has no window at all. What is more, she works from home for a charity that supports a school for young girls in Kenya. This arrangement is not possible with the noise and vibrations all day long, so she takes her laptop to coffee shops or the library where she can't make business phone calls. She is about to quit her job, which she loves, because she needs a quiet place to work.

My nerves are shot as well, and I'm sure everyone in the immediate vicinity is suffering. I think we have a microcosm of what is going on in the country: An extremely privileged 1% of the population trouncing the rights of everyone else. I can get past my disgust that buying a $3 million house wasn't good enough for these people -- they had to improve it. After all, they have the right to do what they want with their own property. But subjecting everyone else in the neighborhood to excessive noise, vibrations, and large trucks and other machinery blocking driveways all day long seems terribly unfair. I think the owner's response to my question should have been an apology, even if it was insincere, rather than a snooty, cavalier, "let them eat cake" attitude.

Tenants are supposedly guaranteed "the quiet enjoyment of the premises," but it's impossible to fault our landlord because he is not to blame. He could have gone to a Planning Board meeting and paid $500 to object before the licenses were issued, but that is probably too much to ask. For many of us, a home we loved has become a place to avoid as much as possible. At a time in my life when I really crave a peaceful, healing environment, this is hard to bear. They had such a nice garden, too. Some people have no souls. All the birds have left our neighborhood. Can the rest of us be far behind?


Molly said...

Oh Susan! So sad for you! Hard to believe there is no consideration, even a law, that would protect your right to peace and quiet in your own home! What happened to the cellist? Is moving nests--as the feathered ones so wisely did---an option for you?
If we hear of a murder in San Francisco, our lips are sealed! Hugs, Molly

e said...

Do you have any legal recourse? Is it possible for you to re-locate, at least temporarily? I feel for you, having once been uprooted for circumstances beyond my control. It is frustrating. Hugs.

the walking man said...

The vultures have landed. Amassed wealth in motion is never for them without it, but to extract more wealth for them with it. The new units in the old building will rent for five times as much ergo, your landlord will have to raise the rent or push you out so he too can get his cars attached to that train.

My only question is how much and for how long did the city abate the property taxes of the renovated building.

Cro Magnon said...

As for your next-door-neighbour's bathroom window, surely they can't take her light/view away? She should go directly to her local planning dep't and have it opened again. They must have lied about their plans.

Bloody neighbours; I suffer too!

English Rider said...

An acquaintance recently posted on his Facebook page, that Monday marked the 2,000th consecutive day of construction on his street. I didn't ask if he included the two years his neighbors had to put up with his project. He probably didn't.
There are rules regulating the hours and days that construction is allowed. Deliveries count as construction so no cement trucks with engines idling before that official time. Most Bay Area cities now limit construction to Monday-Friday and no holidays. If you find out the rules and start calling the local police every time they are flaunted, the builder will start getting serious fines and start being more considerate.
You can call the contractors' licensing board to make sure the work is being done by someone qualified and insured. Imagine a fire that he isn't covered for that spreads to your home. The board will list any prior complaints etc.
Also, regarding your neighbor the cellist, if you have rented for more than two years, the landlord has to give you two months' notice, or pay a settlement in lieu.
Last but not least, building projects bring numerous strangers to a neighborhood and give them access to watch when people come and go. Long ago someone broke into our house several times and stole my daughters underwear. We set up cameras and nailed a "helper" from the building site right next door.
There's the Good, Bad and Ugly of what I've experienced. Hope some of it is helpful:)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It truly is a pain for a lot of people in our neighborhood, but worst for my lovely next-door neighbor.

The cellist, after 25 years in a rent-controlled flat, had to move quite far away and commute because he was paying far less than the current so-called"fair market value." (There is nothing remotely fair about San Francisco real estate vaues.)


I really can't relocate at this time. Eventually it will end, but not soon enough.


The building next door is privately owned by a family. They are not paying rent. My building is rent-controlled so our landlord is only legally allowed to raise our rent a certain percentage every year, which he unfailingly does.

Cro magnon,

I called the planning board on her behalf and was told that they don't "protect" windows on property lines, which hers was. Nobody in authority cares about her plight because the very rich owners next door were able to pay whatever was required to get their plans approved. It's a nightmare for my neighbor.


I have already checked with the various commissions that govern these things, and the contractor is supposedly considered a good one. In fact, their excuse for pouring concrete over my neighbor's window was that a fire in OUR building could spread to theirs. It's so sad and unfair.

As for the cellist, he's gone and has no recourse now. I don't even know where to find him. He did tell me that he had once offered to buy his flat from the former owners, who said they would never sell the building. When they did, he was booted most rudely.

I will keep a close watch on my underwear, just in case. Thanks for the warning. :(

Paula said...

Susan, I am so sorry you have to endure this indignity and aggravation. Being annoyed in our own homes makes us feel violated. It's been thirty years since I lived in an apartment, but I remember well the aggravation of not being able to get away from the sound of other peoples' music, etc., or other annoyances, AT HOME! In those days, we sometimes went out for no reason, other than to be OUT, go anywhere, just have a cup of coffee, read the magazines at the library.
For homebodies, not feeling at home, at home, is torture.
If there's any karma, somebody equally awful will move in on the other side of the rich new neighbor!
Your situation makes me feel ridiculous for resenting construction where I live, when our homes are mostly on one to five acres. It's not the same at all. (Although gas well start up can be pretty bad!) Also, I don't live in an area where people are wealthy enough to subject their neighbors to rehashing a home for a YEAR!
It is insane that people working on another property could concrete over a window on YOUR building. Why isn't your landlord livid? Doesn't live there, huh?
One problem that exists in Arkansas' capitol city is wealthy people buying homes in fine old neighborhoods of cottages, all of a similar type and size, then razing the house and building a new one totally out of style and proportion to the neighborhood.

mischief said...

Ugh, how awful. One year I lived in a neighbourhood that was still being built, and it was exactly the same. Heavy trucks, vibrations, jackhammers all day, nails left all over the roadways to pierce my car tires... once someone parked a cement truck on my driveway and cracked it.

We left. Couldn't stand the thought of another year or two of this.

I really hope you won't have to leave to get some peace, but I understand your desire to do so. Noise laws really make no sense to me given the number of people that work night shifts, or work from home. Reasonable peace and quiet should be your right 24 hours a day.

Wanna come stay with us? It's quiet! ... and I have a pack of pups who'd love to have someone to snuggle them during the day while we're at work. :)

Paula said...

Mischief, your story certainly makes me feel better about not being able to afford a new home. And if I win the lottery, I won't buy one until the neighborhood is finished!

Secret Agent Woman said...

Oh, that is so disheartening. I couldn't expand my house if it meant encroaching on others rights to live peacefully. A brief job like re-roofing - sure, but not what you're describing. So selfish.

Lee said...

Oh! Dear! I'd be so angry and upset, too, if I was in your position, Susan. How bloody annoying...and ongoing annoying, by the sounds of it!

Don't you have laws against construction noises after certain hours and on public holidays? This is not good enough.

There are so many selfish people in this world; and they don't take others into consideration. It's not right.

I do feel for you.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


"Not feeling at home, at home" says it perfectly.

I have questioned how removing my neighbor's window and plastering it over can possibly be legal since this was done on a building other than the one on which they contracted to work. It's amazing what money can accomplish, isn't it?


You might have a deal since you're even throwing in puppies! It's impossible to feel calm while being assaulted constantly by loud noises. It's quite dreadful, really.


Agreed. When Flip and I owned a home, we had to replace the roof at one point, but we never engaged in long term, noisy projects that would have inconvenienced our neighbors, even though some of them regularly shot guns behind their houses for sport. (Tennessee.)

As construction projects always take longer than estimated, I worry that we may be looking at even longer than the projected year.


There are indeed laws, but apparently they are not enforced as they should be.

My neighbor remarked yesterday that she's sure everyone in the neighborhood hates these people. I replied that they surely don't care. Thank you for caring.

nick said...

Unfortunately I suspect the Walking Man is right, that the new units will either be rented or sold for phenomenal amounts and the sisters will be living somewhere else. Then it'll be a question of whether the new occupiers are considerate to their neighbours or not. All very worrying.

I've had my share of noisy and unpleasant neighbours in the past and it's no joke. It's thoroughly disruptive and as you say makes the quiet enjoyment of your home impossible.

It looks as though you've investigated all the possible ways of minimising the nuisance and been rebuffed for one reason or another. As you suggest, the new owner is probably using money to oil the wheels. All in all, a dismal situation. I hope the future brings an improvement.

Claudia Hall Christian said...

The whole thing is heartbreaking to me. I see it everywhere I turn.

The pirates have won. "Take what you can, give nothing back" seems to be the motto of the day.

Heartbreaking. I'm so sorry that you've lost your sanctuary, your peaceful haven, and the place you last lived with your beloved. Will you move?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It hadn't occurred to me that they were renovating the place for other than their own use. I do believe they intend to live there as it was quite lovely before and would have commanded very high rent, just as it was, a beautiful building in an excellent neighborhood, one of the city's best in every way.


I think of moving, but probably won't because I really do like my apartment, partly for the reason you mention. Flip's spirit is here, and while it would probably accompany me elsewhere, moving seems so complicated even though I have lived as a gypsy most of my adult life.

Your pirate analogy is a good one. It does feel like being pillaged every day. The constant noise and vibrations are a true violation of spirit.

Maria said...

That soo stinks. And I'm not sure that you can do much about it, except trust in fate or karma. And when people tell me that, it just pisses me off.

I would sweetly tell the mother on the next occasion that I see her that I sincerely hope that once the work is done that the "wild, noisy parties" will end. I'd comment further that she has built so much ill will with her neighbors now that they will be calling the police on a dime each and every time this happens. That one reaps what they sow. And then, I'd smirk and mince away.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Oh, you can be sure that if they're making noise, the second it turns 10:00 PM everyone in the neighborhood will call the police. These arrogant people have such an attitude of entitlement and superiority that they are immune to our bad feeling, however. We live in a city - it's not as if they are being excluded from neighborhood block parties.

I've noticed several new "for sale" signs on private residences on my street and suspect there's a connection.

Claudia Hall Christian said...

Gosh, this is so heartbreaking. I'm sorry. You're on the battleground of the entitled against the rest, but I'll tell you - San Francisco has always had this war. My grandfather used to talk about it. Esh.

I wish there was something I could do to help you.