When Maureen McCarthy and her daughter want to enjoy the pool at their house in Silver Bluff, they have to check first to see if they have an audience. Less than two feet from their home in the suburban Miami neighborhood sits a four-story apartment building with balconies that overlook their backyard.
In January 2019, builders broke ground on Silver Cove Lofts, an 18-unit apartment building next to McCarthy's single-family home. The complex, which was completed last year, lies smack-dab in the middle of a small suburban street off of US-1 otherwise lined with low-scale single-family residences.
McCarthy, a professor at Miami Dade College, says the space between her property line and the apartment building is only about 20 inches, and her backyard is literally within spitting distance of the neighboring balconies.
"When I sit in my Jacuzzi, I can hear every single thing they're saying. They could spit into my Jacuzzi if they wanted —or something else," McCarthy tells New Times.
In the two years that the building was under construction, McCarthy says, she had to contend with dust and debris from the site. She says two-by-fours and nail-ridden metal fell from the worksite onto her patio and that workers broke a hole in her fence. Her patio umbrellas, pool tiles, door, fence, and walls were splattered with stucco from the construction, she says, and much of it is still caked on today, including a large blob on her washer.
"It looks like they had a snowball fight with cement on my washing machine," she says.
Now, McCarthy is suing the property owner and contractor, Silver Cove Apartments LLC and Star Brite Group LLC, accusing them of negligent construction that damaged her home.
McCarthy has video footage of some of the construction damage, captured by security cameras she installed to prevent work crews from trespassing. In one clip, a large bundle of insulation can be seen tumbling over her fence and into her pool area. Another video shows work crews dropping debris from the top of the apartment building using a wheelbarrow, allowing dust to blow into neighboring yards.
Once, while teaching an online class from her bedroom, McCarthy says, she could see construction workers hosing dust off her car and placing a plastic tarp over it without consulting her, despite the "No Trespassing" signs in front of her house.
"I'm in my bedroom, and I see four guys washing my car. They never knocked on my door," she says. "It sounds like they were being nice, but they were taking a very easy way to avoid damage, and you can't do that when people have No Trespassing signs."
While surrounding properties are zoned only for single-family homes, under the Miami21 zoning code, developers are allowed to build higher-density, multifamily apartment buildings and retail spaces on McCarthy's block.
Winker says his client's case is only one example of Miami-Dade County's growing issue of rampant development encroaching on existing neighborhoods. In nearby Coral Gables, a man's single-family home has been practically swallowed up by a large-scale complex.
In McCarthy's neighborhood, parking has been a particular pressure point. On a recent weekday, signs were posted in front of a number of houses that read: "There is a parking problem [on] SW 25 Terrace. We demand responsible, controlled development."
McCarthy says that since the apartment building opened up, tenants and their guests have been parking on the narrow street. Some have approached McCarthy's neighbors asking to rent their driveways, though she has managed to ward off any such requests with a sign that makes her position clear.
"DON'T ASK...NO YOU CANNOT RENT MY DRIVEWAY FOR PARKING," her sign reads.
The rep adds that the company was within its rights under the zoning code to build the apartment building and that the rest of the block will likely see more upscale development in coming years because of its proximity to the Underline. They say McCarthy's grievance should be with the city and its zoning code, not with Silver Cove.
Winker fears that more large-scale development in small-scale neighborhoods like McCarthy's is bound to happen, and he says suing for damages is one of few ways property owners can protect themselves and assert their rights.
"Development begets more development. Now we have this growth, and it's gonna beget more growth. No one wants to have a single-family residence next to a four-story giant," Winker says.