I read somewhere that good fences make good neighbors. This may be true, and if it is then The Havens needs a really good fence.
We have been suffering a great stress this week. It doesn’t look like it is going to resolve itself any time soon, either, unfortunately. The neighbor who is causing the stress is well known in the community for being less than nice (feel free to substitute any harsher and more profane term here).
So, we have owned this property for 18 years. Shortly after we purchased it and moved in, so shortly that we hadn’t even completely unpacked yet, our neighbor approached us with an offer to buy one half of our property. At the time, the half in question was an acre of grass bordered on one side by the street, on two sides by strips of trees and shrubs that were wild (to say the least) and on the fourth side by our house and its accompanying lawns. When asked, the party admitted that what he wanted our open land for was so he would have more space to park the mobile and manufactured homes he sold.
Below is a shot taken right after we moved in of the relevant property line.
We had been in residence long enough to observe the state of the next door business, which was strewn with detritus. Part of the observation was engendered by my obsessive compulsive trash removal habit. What I mean to say is, that within a couple of days of moving in, I had done my usual clean up and was appalled by the amount of shit that had blown onto our property from the one next door. You see, when you transport a manufactured home it is usually broken into halves, and in order to protect the interiors, giant sheets of plastic are attached to cover the open side during transport. Needless to say, these sheets of plastic must be removed in order to display the home properly, and the workers who did this generally threw them over against the “fence” between our properties, where they deteriorated in the UV from the sun and then availed themselves of the local zephyrs and gales to migrate all over the neighborhood.
In addition, styrofoam cups providing beverages to potential buyers, lunch wrappers from the workers, pieces of styrofoam and insulation from the renovation of repossessed homes, plastic wrappers off bundles of shingles, and all manner of crap was strewn from hither to yon on the property. Imagining all that 150 feet closer to our home did not attract us, and despite the neighbor’s promises to build a privacy fence we declined his offer. We have never been forgiven for that.
I have been picking up trash ever since.
To be honest, there is another part of this story. The tree line between our properties is viewed by both sides in complete opposition. I like it, despite the unruliness of it. There is a row of trees, mostly elms, right along the “fence.”
Okay, a digression. Why do I keep putting quotation marks around the word “fence”? Well, at one time in its life, the object so referred to may have actually been a fine structure of woven stock wire and with a barbed wire top wire attached to wooden posts. But that was at least thirty years ago, possibly longer, and while the remnants still exist they can hardly be called a fence, since “fence” usually implies an ability to contain livestock within. In this case, it only serves as a vague indication of where the property line may be.
Obviously, the fence is fully involved in the trees, or vice versa. Anyway, the trees have been a thorn in our neighbor’s side for a long time. He claims that they are damaging his mobile homes, although I have seen no evidence of this. Over a decade ago, he approached us and told us that we needed to get rid of the trees “over there” because they taking space in his lot that he needed for parking inventory. Also he mentioned what an eyesore the wild tangle of trumpet vine was. At that time, there were numerous trees flourishing far outside the fence line, and I invited him to remove his own trees before he demanded I take mine down, pointing out that that would give him more space on his lot. I indicated that what was an eyesore to him was a garbage trap, a visual barrier for me, and a sanctuary for the cardinals, hummingbirds, and finches.
He hired a crew and they spent a pleasant week removing the elms that had sprouted on his back line. They neglected to treat the stumps, however. He backed his trailers up as close to the fence as he could get them and I thought how nice it was to have what amounted to a big tall privacy fence back there. Most asssuredly, though, the line of merchandise slowly migrated away from the fence line because due to the compaction of the soil in his lot there is a decided slope up to our property and it makes leveling the mobile homes difficult. Immediately, the trees he had cut off sprouted in circles around the trunks and instead of a few stately elms, he had thickets of scraggly elms.
Things have continued in this way for 18 years. Every time the wind blows, I have to pick up trash that migrates from him to me. Undoubtedly, he stands on his lot and cusses at our unruly elms and our cussedness. Every once in a while he has a crew cut back the sprouts, which immediately reincarnate. Once or twice when I complained bitterly to him over the phone about the trash, he actually had his people clean his lot up. The trash always returns within a few weeks.
Every few years he demands that we cut our trees down. We don’t. The law allows us to have trees as long as they are healthy and not in danger of falling over on the neighbor’s home or property. It does NOT say we have to trim off branches that overhang the neighbors. It says we have to allow the neighbor to cut the encroaching branches off the trees if they don’t like them. We have allowed this. The law states that an adjacent property owner trimming their neighbor’s trees must do so in a way that does not endanger the health of the tree. If they do kill a tree, then that neighbor could sue for damages.
Frankly, approached in a more civil way, we very well might have considered removing some or even all of the trees. There really are quite a few back there. But we don’t respond well to arrogant bluster, accusations, and threats. These things tend to make us dig our heels in, especially when the blusterer is maintaining a visual eyesore of piles of siding, plastic, lath strips full of nails, and other crap.
So, things came to a head about two weeks ago. The weather had warmed up, I was walking about enjoying the breath of warmth that was hinting that spring might be arriving, checking on the crocus situation and picking up the usual selection of trash that had blown onto the property during the weeks since I had last done that chore. Imagine my fury when I arrived down at the southeast corner and discovered that the mobile home renovators had been painting. How did I know this? Because when they finished their job, they had some paint left over. So they threw the container, the paint, and the used roller over the fence into the shrubbery there. The idle thought crossed my mind that I should take a picture of the mess in situ, but I did not. I picked up the paint container and the roller and marched up to the office of the business.
While the proprietor was not there, he did have minions working on a tiling job. Actually, it was a minion and his girlfriend/wife. They asked me if they could help me and I explained the situation. So, then I got into a conversation with the woman, who basically trashed the people working at the “end of the lot” who had been doing the renovations. Apparently, there is some competition for that and the people up in the office had been underbid by the team that had thrown the paint. The gal commiserated with me about the trash; we got into a side bar discussion regarding the people across the street from the business who have a pink trash can that they leave at the curb with the top open which is a source of trash on the street. That can had blown over in a gale a couple of weeks previously, and I had driven by it with the thought of cleaning it up. When I got back home someone had already done it. Turns out it was the gal I was talking to. I congratulated her and thanked her for doing that. Her man invited me to admire the tiling job he was doing, which I dutifully did and told him it looked good. Then I said I ought to go off on my merry way, and said I’d like to leave a note for the proprietor regarding the paint situation.
At that point, the gal suggested that she could get him on the phone and I could talk to him directly. That was my second mistake. (The first being not taking the picture of the paint dump). I’ve had conversations with this person before, and I should have known how this one was going to go. First of all, I explained my concern. The response was predictable. No apology. The response was “Are you still dumping kitty litter over the fence?”
Gentle readers, you know my attitude towards trash, do you not? If you don’t, you should read this, and this. For the record, I have never dumped kitty litter over any fence. Anywhere. I did pour it into my driveway in Alaska, and since the litter was clay and the driveway was clay it was hard to see it existed. I have been using scoopable cat litter for as long as I can remember, and it is a heck of a lot more convenient to dispose of it in the garbage can that is by my door than haul it 200 feet out to a property line to dump it over the fence, which I wouldn’t do anyway, no matter how shitty I think the neighbors habits are.
At any rate, his conversational gambit raised my ire level considerably. After I had simmered down slightly, he asked me what I would think if he built a privacy fence. I told him I thought that was a fine idea. So his response was that I should cut down my trees, they were damaging his homes, blah de blah. I rudely interrupted him and told him that he needed to keep to the subject, which was his garbage on my property. Then I hung up on him. I left the paint container and the roller on his desk, and went on home.
So, let’s be fair. I probably should not have hung up on him, but it most certainly wasn’t a good idea for me to keep talking to him either. And I admit that in his eyes I have been a stubborn and uncooperative hag about the damned trees for almost twenty years. I don’t suppose I have been the perfect neighbor either.
His response was to have a crew come out and cut off the sprout crop behind his trailers on his side of the fence. He took a picture of the mess. He went off to a lawyer and complained about it all, blaming the mess back there on limbs falling from our trees. In my humble opinion, you should not base a legal complaint upon a falsehood, but I suppose I am splitting hairs here. I received a threatening letter from said lawyer telling me that if I didn’t maintain the trees better our neighbor would sue, that the trees were on my side of the fence and therefore my responsibility. Oh, and I should never set foot on the property, and I should cease harrassing his employees. Apparently the fact I have a spouse and a co-owner is not on his radar, as Jim’s name was never mentioned in the letter. It was addressed to me only.
The last time I checked, talking about picking up trash in the neighborhood and admiring a tiling job is not harrassment, but I could be wrong about that.
I have to give him full credit though. I think his lawyer told him that if he was going to accuse me of maintaining a nuisance, that he’d better have his nose spick and span. The mobile home lot has been cleaned within an inch of its life and it looks GREAT! I only hope that it stays that way. I’m not holding my breath.
So now we have to find a lawyer to help us communicate. It’s such bullshit. The irony is, that if this gentleman was placed in a police line up of five similar looking fellows, I could not identify him. I believe I’ve actually met him face to face once. Maybe. He probably couldn’t identify me either. And that is sad.
It has occurred to me in the past couple of days that being neighbors is sort of like being married. Only you can’t get a divorce.
I guess I’ll go out and console myself with my iris reticulata and crocuses.