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Monday, September 7, 2009

Sometimes Fences Make Bad Neighbors

There was an interesting story in the New York Times a few days ago about a dispute between two neighboring landowners and the town of Westport, Connecticut over a stone wall.  Albert and Susan Hancock built the wall in 2005 around their home, replacing an earlier wall on approximately the same line.  They did not obtain a permit.  Jeffrey and Elizabeth Lillien, neighbors of the Hancocks, filed a complaint with the town to stop the construction citing a number of concerns, including possible wetlands issues and interference with sight lines. 

The legal issues are murky, but the story is interesting because of the sheer amount of money involved.  Westport is a wealthy community, where the median home price is $970,000.  The Hancocks spent $170,000 constructing the wall and have, to date, spent $150,000 on legal fees defending it, plus $50,000 on inspections and related costs.  The Lilliens and the town of Westport have also incurred significant expenses.  The Lilliens ' attorney told the Times that he has 30 property cases pending, including one in which a woman's vegetable garden was bulldozed by a neighbor.

This case is surely an anomaly in terms of cost, but it still highlights one reason that so few property disputes (particularly among homeowners) reach the appellate courts -- high litigation costs.  It also begs the question about how those in less favorable economic circumstances handle such disputes.  Both the Hancocks and the Lilliens believe that they are justified in enforcing their respective property rights.  In this case, they both have the resources to, in their own minds at least, fight the good fight.  But fundamental issues about social justice are raised in the more common case, where only one, or neither party, has such resources.

Tanya Marsh

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As I was on the phone this morning with my step-mother discussing how we were going to come up with the $1000.00 to cremate my sister, I came across the Wall Dispute between Albert Hancock and his neighbors. My stomach is in knots and I have no idea where we are going to get the money for her cremation and here I find two neighbors spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees over a beautiful rock wall. My heart, mind and soul are broken over the death of my sister. What is the world coming to?

Posted by: Patricia Huckabaa | Sep 9, 2009 6:34:53 AM

Funny thing having lawyers for neighbors; I have the same problem here. They lawyer I have next door is the same way. All the neighbors around here call him the Baron of our street. He has been a thorn in everyone's side.

The wall is beautiful and an asset to the neighborhood. It's all a joke. Sue happy lawyers will be the end of this great country (I.E. insurance claims, property disputes, health insurance, slip and fall, personal negligence cases) They will put all of us in the poor house if we let them.

Posted by: Persadius | Sep 9, 2009 8:14:19 AM

Funny thing about "neighbors". They think building fences and huge houses which interfere with another neighbors view from a lake front home is "great" as it might increase the value of their own unimproved property, and well, after-all, it doesn't interfere with "their" view. Or, they don't want to get involved in a conflict. Oh, and they never take a walk to see how it impacts the affected property (probably because they don't want to face the sheer reality of what selfish people they truly are...easier to stick your head in the sand). It is a sad overflow from the greed and get all you can take society we are becoming.

Our "neighbors" thought they could get together and build a huge monstrosity of a house to block our view from one side while their best friends built a long ten foot wall "spite" fence on the other side, thus depriving us of anything other than a tunnel view. They thought we would not have the resources to take them to court...wrong. It is nothing more than extortion, trying to take property we would not give to them. They drive up the legal fees with delays and unnecessary motions. They will stop at nothing to get their way. Do you really think we should give in?

So, you may think that rock wall is an "asset" but do you live next to it? Does it block your view? Have you taken a moment to put yourself in the shoes of the people who maintain their view has been blocked? Have you visited the area to actually look at the effect it has on their own enjoyment of the property they bought with the understanding they would have a "view"? I dare say, not.

I agree it is obscene to be forced into spending so much money/time/emotion to defend your rights under the law, but that is the legacy of selfish people who "build what they want" just because they "want" without regard to their "neighbors". Next time it may be you, so don't expect your "neighbors" to do any of the above when you cry foul...reap what you sew.

Posted by: Elizabeth | Jan 24, 2010 4:28:39 PM

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