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A couple from Leicestershire came into conflict with their local council after secretly turning an old garage into a house.

Blaby District Council heard reports about illegal work on the garage back in October 2015. It began investigating Dr Reeta Herzallah and partner Hamdi Almasri and soon discovered the illegal project (despite it being cleverly concealed behind a fake garage door and a wooden fence).

It is true that even pint-sized dwellings can fetch high prices provided they are in the right area. There are dozens of stories of tiny properties in London selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

That said, Enderby is hardly the ‘right area’: according to Zoopla, the average price for property in the town in February 2018 was £212,992, compared to £1,351,598 in Central London.

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Outbuildings can also offer value in other ways. They can make perfect home offices or she-sheds, and if necessary they can also be rented out. However, creating such an outbuilding, even via a conversion, will usually require both building regulations approval and planning permission.

The couple applied for retrospective planning permission in July the following year, but this was rejected and later dismissed on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate in February 2017.

Among the planning breaches highlighted by the council, the couple had also created an unauthorised vehicle access point onto a nearby dual-carriageway.

They are far from the first people to try and hide home improvements in order to get around planning laws. Farmer Robert Fidler thought he could get away with building a castle on a green belt by hiding it behind hay bales and tarpaulin, but after revealing his project to the world he was quickly ordered to tear it down.

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Although the couple undertook some “remedial works” in May and June, follow up inspections by the council later that year found that no substantial work had been done to revert the garage to its original use. It was then that the council began seeking prosecution.

Rather than attempt another appeal or even to defend themselves, the couple simply failed to attend their hearing at Leicester Magistrates’ Court. They were subsequently convicted of a number of planning breaches and were ordered to pay a £77 victim surcharge, £1,252 in legal costs and a £700 fine (in addition to the cost of undoing all of their work on the garage).

"The message from this case is clear,” said Sheila Scott, the council’s cabinet member for planning.

"If you breach planning regulations and ignore us, we will not just go away."

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Images owned by: Blaby District Council

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