New neighbours, scary rumours and mild panic

Week nine of our restoration project in Istria

The Opcina property is sold to Italians and rumours send me into a worried spin. A financing road-block slows work, but things still proceed, with trenches everywhere and some quality stone and wood work.


Neighbours are a concern for any property and at Kovaci, we had four adjacent properties. Only two were occupied, fortunately by friendly local families; both the others were empty and had long been abandoned. We assumed therefore that nothing would be happening with them – WRONG!


New neighbours…

The next door, Opcina house in Kovaci, IstriaWhen we bought Kovaci there was a rumour that Kaštelir Opcina (the local council) was planning to sell its property. I didn’t give it much thought – according to rumour, everywhere is for sale in Croatia. Even if it was up for sale, I suspected it might take years: after all, this is Croatia and they are an opcina, and glaciers have been known to move faster than most Croatian opcinas. But less than two months later, the house was sold at auction to some Italians. Out of the blue, we had new neighbours.


…start work…

The first I knew about this was Monday morning. I arrived at Kovaci to find clearance work in progress and the derelict animal shed, built against our boundary wall, being demolished. Stunned things had happened so quickly, I was also delighted. Early in our restoration project I’d asked if I could remove the shed, so I could reduce the height of the wall. After much deliberation my request was denied because the Opcina was selling the property. Even though everyone expected the shed would be demolished anyway when it was bought, it was listed in the sale information so we couldn’t touch it. “Take it up with your new neighbours,” was the advice. ‘Fat lot of use that will be’, I thought. ‘We’re bound to be finished well before you manage to sell that house!’ Guess I was proved wrong on that one. 

Next door animal shed almost completely demolished in Kovaci, IstriaAlthough glad to see the eye-sore gone and relieved we hadn’t wasted any money paying for the work, I now wondered, rather nervously, what the Italians’ plans were and how they would affect us? For now, there was nothing I could do, so I turned my attention to a more immediate issue: what to do about the tall wall? I’d wanted to lower it earlier and now, with the shed gone, I could. But did I still want to? With the pool in place and the ground level lifted, it looked rather good from our side and would look even better when it had passionflower and clematis growing up it. After much deliberation, I decided to leave it. Just hope it proves the right decision!

Everyday life in Croatia caught up with me for the rest of the week, so I didn’t get up to the house again until Friday. (In case you’re wondering, first up were maintenance and internet issues for Brnobici, our other rental house. Then it was passport and visa renewal application time for us. Next came some furniture shopping for the barn, yet more on Brnobici’s internet and finally meetings for sorting out some paperwork anomalies for our house – all very time consuming and long stories for another day).


… and cause a panic!

Arriving on Friday, I met a worried Miro, anxious to talk about next door. “Everyone says,” he said, “the Italians are planning to knock down the existing house and build a new one, right against your wall!”

PANIC!! ‘Oh help!’ I thought. (Actually my thoughts were somewhat more colourful than ‘help’, but not printable) ‘That’ll cut out so much sunlight and look terrible! It’ll ruin everything!’ It was a possibility I’d never even considered.

Stonemason rebuilding the missing shed wall in Kovaci, IstriaOnce I’d calmed down and got my brain working again, I realised this was just gossip. Knowing a bit about Croatian building regulations, I was pretty certain they wouldn’t be able to build right against our boundary without our consent. And if they had to leave the normal few metres gap between our wall and whatever they wanted to build, then I also didn’t think their small triangular piece of land was big enough – especially as they were bounded on the other side by a public road. But this is Croatia: laws have a tendency to bend and things are constantly changing. Maybe the Italians had negotiated a deal with the Opcina when they bought the property? I prayed that wasn’t the case and, while I knew the rumour was probably just a rumour, if it was true then it didn’t bear thinking about. I needed to find out the legal situation – fast!

“Can the Italians build against our wall?” I asked Azra – being an estate agent she usually knows the latest on the rules and regulations. “Not without your permission,” she replied. “They need to leave a 3 m or 4 m gap between their house and your boundary. They also have to build at least 8 m from the road on the other side.” Big relief, the law hadn’t changed. With the shape of the land and it being less than 11 m across the widest point, there simply wasn’t room for them to build anything! The rumour, it seemed was just that. 

Trenches everywhere in Kovaci, Istria“However, that’s only the general rule,” added Azra. “There can be local exceptions, especially in villages, so I suggest you double check in the local cadastral rule-book. There’ll be a copy in the Opcina office and it may also be available on-line. Whatever’s said in the rule-book is law and can to be enforced – even for the Opcina.”

After a quick check on-line, where nothing detailed seemed available, Snježana called Kaštelir Opcina for me, to ask when we could come inspect the book. “You can come any time,” was the reply, “but we have the latest amendments available digitally. Shall I e-mail them to you?” Yes, please!

A check of the e-mail and at last, a big sigh of relief. Kaštelir had no strange exceptions. I didn’t know the Italians’ plans, but one thing was certain: they couldn’t build against our wall!


Meanwhile, on our building site

Stonemason crafting our side wall in Kovaci, IstriaWalls might have been coming down next door, but on our site they were going up – Miro’s stonemason had arrived. With the šupa floor now finished, he rebuilt the missing outside wall (did I tell you  it was a wall short – I do wonder what happened to the original?) By Monday morning, he’d moved onto filling a gap in the small wall between our properties, re-using the beautifully-cut old stone from the demolished cart-shed.

Miro crafting the stairs in Kovaci, IstriaWe’d now got gaping trenches crisscrossing across the garden, so it took a lot of leaping to get to the house. Upstairs, I found Miro, crafting the stairs to the master bedroom. They had to be moved slightly to provide enough room for the ensuite bathroom. From the look of relaxed concentration on his face, I think he enjoys woodwork … he seemed most content playing with his planks. “We’re ready to start work on the barn,” he said, taking a break. “But I need to buy supplies, so need more money.”

‘A little advance notice would have been useful,’ I thought, hurrying home to check on the finances. We had organised the next batch of money a few days ago, but it hadn’t yet arrived.

Stonemason crafting Kovaci property's beautiful gateway in IstriaWhile I was sorting out other parts of my life and panicking about the Italians’ building plans, work slowed at the house while we awaited our funds. Even so, the stonemason finished building most of the front wall – leaving a gap for Toni and his JCB – and started crafting the gatepost. And inside the house, Miro finished his stairs. And both looked beautiful … Istria certainly has some fine craftsmen.


Next week: money arrives and activity ramps up again, as work starts on the barn.

Also see

Restoration diary:




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