The couple had bought their house on Kelmscott St in Rosewater in the South Australian capital, which was located next door to an older home with a backyard.
But the owners decided to knock it down in 2017 and build a three-unit development in its place.
The Wards’ gutter was squashed during the build and their fence was torn down without warning, with a building frame erected that butted onto their house.
When the couple rang their local council to complain, they were told their property was actually 10cm over the boundary, which they were previously unaware of.
“If that was discovered during the surveying process we would have paid them for the square metres at an approved price, and moved our boundary over 10cm,” she told news.com.au.
“But no one bothered to tell us. Our gutter was damaged, but it was also the principle – if we had been two metres over, would they have been allowed to run an excavator through our living room?”
Mrs Ward said Port Adelaide Enfield Council’s development panel ended up rejecting the plans due to a lack of yard space, but it was allowed to progress following mediation through the Environment, Resources and Development Court.
In the end, builder Fenbreeze Homes constructed the neighbouring units centimetres from the Wards’ home, and the couple were able to physically touch the building from their bathroom window.
Mrs Ward said the development blocked out light into their home, leaving them feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortable.
In the end, they put their home on the market and moved to a different suburb.
“We weren’t comfortable with that level of density. We always knew it was an older house (next door) and that it could have been bulldozed, but to put three on the block – we didn’t want people living on top of us so we drew a line and decided to put it behind us and move,” Mrs Ward said.
“We felt blocked in. It was shocking and very frustrating and it made us feel quite powerless.
“But unless you want to spend a ridiculous amount of money in court, there’s not much of an option – you’ve just got to take it.”
She said there was widespread outrage at the couple’s situation at the time.
“Everyone who saw our photos or any visitors who came to our house saw how close it was and had the same gut reaction – people told us, ‘bloody hell, it’s right on top of you’,” she said.
“There needs to be better communication and there needs to be legislation – you can’t just do this without notifying someone and giving them the opportunity to have a say or mediate before it goes to construction.”
Mrs Ward urged future homeowners to “absolutely” check council development assessment plans and to make sure they were signed up to receive notifications of plans in their area.
“Stay on top of it and make sure you’re on the front foot. In an ideal world you wouldn’t have to, but don’t just trust people to do the right thing,” she said.
“If this is something you don’t want to see in your area, make sure your local council and state government knows that.
“I’m sure there are hundreds of other people experiencing the same issue, but there’s nowhere to go apart from the courts or the media. It’s about time the planning laws reflected how people actually want to live, not just putting money in the pockets of developers.”
Mrs Ward is speaking out just days after fellow South Australian Branko Soda revealed he had returned home from holidays in September – only to find his neighbour had legally installed a “monstrosity” of a water tank within touching distance of his porch.