Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Have you heard that phrase before? Good fences make good neighbors? I've never really thought about it much before - then I had a big fence experience a couple days ago.

First of all, let me set the stage. We had a HUGE windstorm on Saturday night lasting through Sunday. We had a big tree branch narrowly miss our house as we ate dinner Saturday night (it brushed against the window of the dining room and scared us big time!). We woke up Sunday morning to the power being out and tree branches and debris all over the neighborhood. Church had to be cancelled with no power and pretty scary winds continuing throughout the day. So we had a cozy day at home, reading together on our big bed, playing games, huddling by the gas fireplace, holding our own little church, and taking a walk around the neighborhood to survey the scene - huge trees uprooted, big branches down, one car totally smashed by a tree, amazingly not too much property damage but roof shingles and branches big and small all over the place. We ended the day with a candle light dinner (luckily the stove is gas so we could make food) and games by the light of our camping lantern. All in all, it was a really different and pleasant day.

We finally got the power back on Monday afternoon (and the food in the fridge and freezer - which we told the kids NOT to open - seemed to have survived just great - other than the ice cream that was soft-serve consistency on Sunday night so we grabbed it out of the freezer quick and invited some neighbors over for an ice cream party).

Monday afternoon, after feeling so glad that our 4-year-old backyard fence had survived the windstorm while so many had not, I saw someone I didn't recognize in my backyard, doing something to our fence.

I went up to the man and saw that he was taking out some screws attaching the slats to our fence and asked him what was going on. Then I recognized that he is the landlord of the property on the other side of the fence who I'd met briefly approximately 2 years ago when he was similarly taking apart a section of our fence and told us he'd like to move the fence to the property line which was 2 feet from where the fence currently is and potentially move our A/C units that are currently placed on the property line (they were placed there by the people who renovated this house 8 years ago - with the full cooperation of the previous owner of the house next door). At that time, I'd told him that we had built the current fence in cooperation with the previous owner of the property in the same place where there had been a very old fence that had blown down during the big windstorm of 2011. That evening, I had people waiting for me in the car to head out to an event for which we really couldn't be late so I couldn't have a long conversation but explained that that the fence was built with the permission and involvement of the prior owner and that I had every reason to believe it was built on the property line but that we'd be happy to talk further about the issue - I just couldn't talk right then.

We heard absolutely nothing from the property owners after that for about 2 years until I found the owner out there taking the fence apart this past Monday afternoon.

So back to Monday afternoon. In answer to my question about what he was doing, the owner said that the fence was unstable due to the wind event and pulled on the fence to show me that it indeed had more give than it should. I told him we could shore up the loose support post and fix it, no problem. Then he grabbed the fence and yanked hard on it, pulling loose one of the support posts completely so that the fence became quite unstable.

I asked him to please stop and he said the fence was a liability that could fall on a car or a person and it had to come down. I suggested we shore it up with some 2x4s and told him I had some in our basement and then my husband would fix the fence that evening.

He then said that the fence shouldn't have been built on the old stem wall that the previous owner agreed to have us build it on (I remember him saying "I don't plan to do anything with that old wall, you might as well use it for a good foundation for the fence). Then the owner began ripping the fence apart - quite violently. I told him we'd simply built the fence the way that made the most sense at the time but that we're happy to talk about relocating it. I asked him to please pause for a moment and let me know his plan. While continuing to rip the fence apart (destroying perfectly good materials which belong to us), he said "I'm figuring it out as I go along but I think this fence has to come out and then we'll put in a new one on the property line - we need the foundation this fence is built on to build a carport." He then walked away to his car that was parked nearby in his backyard. I stood their waiting for some time then finally poked my head through the hole he had made in the fence and said, "Excuse me - could we please talk about this?" He didn't acknowledge that he had heard me but came back over to the fence and resumed ripping it apart.

As he resumed ripping the fence apart, I explained that the fence was our property and we have no attachment to that one foot strip of land he said was his based on the survey he obtained. I said we would be happy to coordinate on moving the fence but could he please stop ripping it apart as the materials were good and could easily be reused. I told him I was very concerned about having the fence down as we need it to protect our children in our backyard (there are illegal activities happening frequently on his property that make us nervous and we don't want our children in the backyard without a fence in place). He refused to listen to my pleas, kept ripping away at the fence, and seemed like he was intent upon ripping out the entire $5000 fence we had worked so hard to build 4 years ago.

When he was not responsive to my repeated pleas ("Please don't do that! Please stop!" while there's this awful wood-cracking noise and destruction going on), I told him I'd need to call the police but he ignored me and kept going. So I called called Jared and asked him what to do and he said he'd come home asap but that I'd better call the police to stop the destruction. The police came and talked to both parties and took a report. We choose not to press charges for vandalism or destruction of property but were told we probably had grounds for a civil suit. We told the officer we'd rather just work things out with our neighbor and that we were simply worried about his lack of communication and his somewhat violent and non-communicative behavior.

Later that day, I received a phone call from the wife of this man who told me that they had been planning to put in a new fence along the property line at their expense and leave the area of the fence where our A/C units were placed on the property line by the previous owners but that because I had called the police on her husband, she was now insisting that her husband not do anything to help move the fence and told me it was our responsibility to remove our fence from their property including the area where the A/C units were and they did not plan to help in any way with the re-placement of the fence. She said if we did not do so right away she would call her attorney and have him "drop papers."

I told her we would have been happy to work with them about plans for moving the fence but that her husband's actions without any prior notice or explanation and his refusal to talk about his actions put me in a position where I felt that I needed to involve the police - I was scared and simply didn't know what else to do at that point. She asked what my plan was to move the fence and I told her I'd be talking with my husband and would let her know later. She said I'd probably just push it off like I did when her husband talked to me 2 years ago (for like 5 minutes! And he never said what he exactly wanted or when! And he never followed up!). She said she didn't think I was taking her seriously (because I wasn't yelling back or getting really upset?).

The phone call was well over an hour and she was yelling at me and cutting me off. It was a real challenge but I was proud of myself that I remained calm and kind throughout. The call came to my phone just as I got in the car to leave Costco with the twins. I thought I recognized the number and picked it up expecting someone else. I sat there in the car trying to politely answer questions while being yelled and and cut off. When I was finally able to get off the phone, the twins said "Wow, that lady sure was yelling! We could hear her really well!" I said that maybe she was dealing with some other really hard things in her life or maybe she didn't learn how to communicate properly when she was growing up. It ended up being a good discussion and teaching experience.

In looking into property law, it looks like the current owners should be honoring the agreement we had with the previous owner regarding fence placement and that we have no legal obligation to relocate the fence. We have no problem with the fence being moved. We'd just ask that the current owners leave the fence as it is in the area where the A/C units are. We are happy to help rebuild the fence and contribute the materials from the fence we built towards the new fence.

We've always been good, cooperative neighbors and have every desire to work things out in a way that can be in the best interests of both property owners. But our experience with these people so far suggests that they may not be interested in a friendly resolution so this may be a big pain.

This is the last thing we need right now. Both Jared and I are overloaded with work projects, there's a lot to do to get our house in St George fixed up and sold, we had no power for almost 2 days thanks to the windstorm and a big branch nearly hit our house which has sort of thrown us all for a loop, we've been helping with neighborhood cleanup of all the debris after the windstorm, after years of thought and saving up, we got our plans for our kitchen expansion approved by Landmarks (our house is on the Federal Registry of Historic Homes so it's quite a process to get any changes approved) and now we're in the midst of trying to get bids (and realizing this will be way more expensive than we thought), we've had a lot of unexpected expenses that are quite large lately, we had two people in our ward die last week (older people whose deaths were entirely expected - but still so hard for their families and Jared is helping out in every way he can and needs to be involved in funeral arrangements and all that), and of course, the kids always need plenty of time and attention and we want to prioritize family relationships above all else but wow, sometimes that's hard!

Anyway, I guess I just needed to type this out to get it out of my mind a bit. I've been thinking about this way too much and spending a lot of time on it. I now know a lot about city ordinances and codes, property law, and the like. I have to DO something about whatever I'm upset about so I find myself researching and writing and discussing with Jared and coming up with different scenarios and waking up in the night worrying. I hate feeling like anyone is mad at me or frustrated with me. I want to get along with everyone and I have this dream world in my head where everyone is kind and obeys the golden rule and wants what's best for everyone - and when that dream world butts up against reality, it really throws me off-kilter...  Jared's WAY better at compartmentalizing than I am and he's good at just moving things forward and doing what he can do and not letting it consume him. I need to figure out how to be more like him.


Barb said...

What a gigantic pain. I know your heart was in the right place and you should feel confident in that, too. Some people, no matter our intentions and efforts, will only respond to firm and very clear actions. I would encourage you to explore every avenue available, even if it means an attorney getting involved or a protective order being taken out. Hopefully it won't come to that, but protecting your kids and your family is more important than avoiding hurt feelings. I know you'll figure it out, you have such a generous and kind soul and you are savvy and wise, too.

kms said...

Build the fence on your property. If the fence on his property does damage to another than he will be involved in a law suit. Put your stuff inside your property line. That way you don't have to deal with him. Double check the property line. Those arrangements with owners could be a problem later on. It's really not about who is right and who is wrong. A good fence is one that keeps misunderstandings from happening.

Kerstin said...

I too would advise to relocate the fence. Even if you were right legally, it might save you a lot of disagreements with your neighbour. But in the end, you must decide yourself which way you want to choose.

The other advice would be to not take over other people's problem. From what I understand, you were in the right. And even if you weren't, your neighbours could have been more polite and friendlier. Don't let it hunt you at night! Concentrate on your other projects and your kids and by the way find a solution for the fence. If letters are "dropped off", so what?!

Brimhalls said...

Ugh, that is awful. So sorry! My stomach got tied up in knots just reading about it. Good luck!

L3 said...

That would make me upset, worried, and probably a little crazy! Your comment about your husband made me smile, as my husband is the exact same way with compartmentalization. But, YOU are fine just the way you are. I am often able to anticipate various outcomes, and have some viable compromises due to being "Scenario Mom." So, your method of handling this stress can be as valuable as your husband's. A little bit of both methods helps everyone!

I think your neighbor sounds like he will push boundaries no matter how many concessions you give. So, be firm in whatever you decide. Your fence and A/C was done in good faith, so don't feel guilty about asking for a compromise.

I love reading your blog, even though I don't always comment. :)

jolie fleur said...

Yikes! I feel like you ought to be proud to be so considerate. That he was destroying your fence despite your pleadings to stop is unbelievable to me. I too would have called the police. That is a rational thing to do, not a spiteful thing.

I think you should figure out what you want to have happen and contact the family one more time to work out an amicable solution. I do think it is in your best interest to keep everything on your own property. If something happens you know this is the family that will come after you, legally and financially. You know that for certain at this point. I think that if you can come to an agreement about how to rebuild the fence, that is best. If not, you have to protect yourself. That's how you are a good neighbor. You consult an attorney early on and find out what you need to do to reduce future issues and drama. Do it without malice and do it with peace knowing that you are protecting your family and trying to be aboveboard about everything.

I'm sorry for your stress. I hate conflict!

kms said...

If they build the fence and make sure all property is within their own property boundary they don't have to call the neighbors at all. She won't have this owner or the next owner do anything to her property on their property again. The next owners of her home won't have to worry about it either. She just will have to worry about Mother Nature doing something to the fence. If she is scared of him she should avoid him. it need only meet their city permit rules.

Eyrealm said...

Heck! Just what you don't need right now! Let's talk!


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