Fence dispute -- did we do the right thing?
May 11, 2015 8:18 PM   Subscribe

Our elderly neighbors were planning on fencing in 1300 square feet of common ground that adjoins our lot. They also wanted to put their fence about 4 feet over into our side yard. We gently tried talking to them about the potential encroachments twice. Unfortunately they were not open to moving their fence stakes even after we gave them our survey and the plat of our street showing the common ground. We had to eventually involve the neighborhood trustee in charge of fence approvals. Now they are absolutely furious about it. Did we do the right thing? How can we now deal with angry neighbors who yell at us from their car as they drive past our house?

Our lot adjoins common ground/green space towards the back. It's one of the reasons that we bought our house. When we installed our fence, we put a gate in our backyard so our family could access the green space. We also have a large side yard.

Our neighbors had told us that they were going to tie into our existing fence. This was OK, but when I was in our backyard, I noticed that the fence company had staked out the fence placement to include a 13' x 100 feet section of the common ground -- which would completely block our access. Our gate would lead into their "yard." I also noticed that they had staked out a 4' x 15' foot section of our side yard to enclose.

My husband caught one of the homeowners out in the yard and casually told him that he thought he was wrong about the stake placement. Our neighbor denied that there was common ground, and said that he was correct about the side yard as well.

We were surprised, because we were expecting that this was a misunderstanding. Who expects to be able to put a fence on land they don't own?

A week later we took them our survey showing our side yard and common ground frontage. The neighborhood plat also clearly showed the common ground. They got really angry and said they were not going to move their fence. My husband works in real estate, so he tried his best to explain what an encroachment was and how it could make it tough for us to sell our property later on. No luck.

As a last resort, we had to involve the trustee on the architectural board, who sent them an email saying that they received approval only for a fence on their lot -- not our lot and not the common ground. A week later the fence was installed in the correct spot (still about 6" over onto our property but better than 4').

They are absolutely furious with us. They will drive by our house and yell out the car window "We lost 13 feet of our yard because of you!" The wife also has yelled that they've here for 19 years with no problems, and that we move in "and create a BIG stink and involve the trustees." They say that we are just causing problems.

Did we do the right thing? How do we deal with a couple in their late 70s that now seems intent on harassing us when they drive past our house? We are 40 and have 2 small kids. The kids are scared of these people, too. We feel like we can't use our own yard now without being yelled at.
posted by Ostara to Human Relations (79 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Considering you could lose property, commons, and access, this was the right thing to do. Given enough time their taking would be grandfathered in. Recently some people lost part of a lot in Boulder, CO due to just such inaction over a decade or so.
posted by nickggully at 8:25 PM on May 11, 2015 [40 favorites]

They don't have the right to take part of your land just because they want it! I don't know how you deal with the fallout (I suggest trying to ignore them), but you definitely did nothing wrong in my book.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:25 PM on May 11, 2015 [19 favorites]

You did the right thing. Yell back at them and tell them to be grateful you saved them the expense of tearing out an illegal fence. Old people don't get a license to bully.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:27 PM on May 11, 2015 [15 favorites]

You did nothing wrong. You are not responsible for the feelings of other people, especially assholes who pull this kind of crap and then act like it's your fault. Deal with it by outliving them.
posted by axiom at 8:27 PM on May 11, 2015 [32 favorites]

You're in the right. You'd be in the right to continue the fight for that last 6", too.
posted by jeather at 8:29 PM on May 11, 2015 [84 favorites]

Of course you did the right thing. They are now bullying you because you didn't let them railroad you and steal from you. Can you file a harassment complaint? If you don't want to go that route, ignore ignore ignore. Don't try to placate them, I wouldn't engage with them at all.
posted by JenMarie at 8:29 PM on May 11, 2015 [10 favorites]

I would just laugh. They're seriously upset with you because they didn't get to steal property from you? Laugh, laugh in their faces. They're clueless, obnoxious assholes. And if they keep the harassment up, call the police and get a restraining order. Then they won't be able to get within xx feet of their property or yours! Problem solved.
posted by Jubey at 8:31 PM on May 11, 2015 [57 favorites]

It sounds like this just happened or recently happened. Give them a week to cool down and document every harassing incident. If it doesn't lessen in that week, call the police. Yelling back is not a good strategy for decreasing tension, and they've demonstrated that they don't respond to talking with you. You have to pull in the big guns (metaphorically).
posted by holyrood at 8:32 PM on May 11, 2015 [27 favorites]

Ha ha go after that 6" and make them tear down the fence and move it.

(Saying this as an amused outsider who does not need to live next door to them.)
posted by ryanrs at 8:35 PM on May 11, 2015 [97 favorites]

They're bullies. Let them know every time they bring this up that they wanted to steal land from you, whether they knew it or not. Introduce them as the people who tried to rob you, and if they yell at you from the road, turn the hose on them.

If you want to hold that extra 6" over them, do it. Don't put up with their bullshit for even a second. Never relent. Call the trustee every time they get in your face and remind THAT PERSON that you're still owed 6" and if your neighbors don't cease their shameful behavior, you'll get it. Have that person or another neutral party explain the sitaution to them.
posted by boo_radley at 8:35 PM on May 11, 2015 [25 favorites]

I'd make them move that fence back 6" to the surveyed lot line. It's not like you're going to make them any madder than they already are and otherwise you're going to lose that strip of land. 6" may not sound like a lot but the square footage adds up quickly.
posted by jamaro at 8:36 PM on May 11, 2015 [74 favorites]

Get a surveyor, lawyer and go after the 6".

Then anytime they harass you, feel free to document it with the local police department.
posted by slateyness at 8:37 PM on May 11, 2015 [46 favorites]

I mean, do they understand what's happened? Their behaviour suggests perhaps not. Or it's something between a lack of understanding and just wishful thinking. I'm not sure a mediator would help, but it might be worth a try. (Not to negotiate the land! Just to smooth things over.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:38 PM on May 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

Yeah you were in the right, 100%. Might be a good opportunity to demonstrate to your kids how to deal with ludicrous people. Some combination of compassionate empathy for what they're feeling, which is real to them, but also giving no fucks because they are totally wrong.
posted by reeddavid at 8:40 PM on May 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

No yelling back. If the harassment persists, then you go to the cops. They've presumably treated both the common land and your yard as 'theirs' by dint of being around for a while, and as long as it wasn't enclosed, it was probably tolerated. This is now a land grab. (If there are other people nearby who've been around for a while, have a few quiet chats to get some deep background.)

And yeah, you need to claim back your 6in before the facts on the ground muddy up your title.
posted by holgate at 8:41 PM on May 11, 2015 [22 favorites]

Just start recording them every time they start harassing you. They'll either shut up because they're afraid of what you're going to do with the recordings, or you can go ahead and go to the police (and maybe your city has elder services of some sort?) with them.

And yeah, the genie's out of the bottle already so go after the 6" too. They're affecting your property value.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:49 PM on May 11, 2015 [15 favorites]

Urgh, I'm mad for you. People can be stupid and awful.

Perhaps you can have one go at resolving this by speaking to them in person, or writing them a letter/email. Let them know that their behavior is not acceptable and is frightening your children. Explain (again) that you were acting within your rights and you tried to speak with them about it first, but ended up calling in the trustees to protect your own rights and land, as they would have done. Finally I would finish up with a threat that they can keep their 6" if they shut the hell up else you'll be filing a complaint.

After that, ignore. It'll blow over hopefully.
Sorry. I hate people sometimes.
posted by Youremyworld at 8:58 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about it.

When 70 year olds build a fence like that, it usually means they're getting ready to sell -- which I'd bet they do within the year.

They just thought they could take advantage of you and get a better price.

If you really want to rub their noses in it, wait until they have a buyer and then notify them they need to move the fence that extra 6".
posted by jamjam at 9:01 PM on May 11, 2015 [35 favorites]

You've been friendly and tried to be accommodating. They sound like the sort of people who take advantage. I would not give up the 6 inches. I would absolutely not tolerate the bullying.
posted by theora55 at 9:02 PM on May 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: The funny thing is that the wife has very limited mobility. In the years that we have lived here, I have not seen her out in the yard even once. They hire a gardener to take care of their plants (and send the gardener over to trim our trees as well). When she has spoken to me in the past, she's hopped into her car and driven over and parked in our driveway. Yet she is the one that is spewing most of the vitriolic hatred towards our family about the fence issue. I just don't understand the motivation, at all. They can't even care for the yard themselves, why in the world are they so angry about not being able to fence in part of the common ground and our side yard?

I have thought of recording the next interaction, and I'm keeping my iphone in my pocket for that purpose when I am outside.

We are really good neighbors! We are really involved in the social fabric of our neighborhood and we take really good care of our house. Unfortunately, since the fence issue has arose, they've also began to pick apart other minor things. Our dog's toys are "too squeaky." The roofers that fixed our roof after a hailstorm arrived too early. It's just so draining! Argh!
posted by Ostara at 9:10 PM on May 11, 2015 [10 favorites]

You did the right thing, of course. You tried to explain it nicely. You're in the right. They're assholes who were trying to get away with something. Sorry you have to deal with them. Hopefully they are planning to sell soon, as jamjam suggested.

They're hardly going to back down from being assholes now, so you might as well fight for that six inches back.

Take video of the drive-by nonsense too.
posted by tomboko at 9:21 PM on May 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree that any time these people try to talk to you, get out your phone and video record them. Don't say anything as they're talking, just get your phone out and stare at them blankly. Document all of it whenever possible. And if you can get a word in edgewise, assert calmly but firmly over and over, "You are illegally harassing me. You need to stop now." What atrocious people they are. I am so sorry you have to endure this.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:24 PM on May 11, 2015 [12 favorites]

They can't even care for the yard themselves, why in the world are they so angry about not being able to fence in part of the common ground and our side yard?

Either elderly dementia, or they're taking the idea of the best defense is a good offence and they want to make sure you don't say anything about them stealing 6" of land from you.
posted by Dynex at 9:29 PM on May 11, 2015 [13 favorites]

It sounds like they may be readying their property for sale or something else was bothering them that lead to them wanting to put up the fence in the first place. I would try the niceness tact for a few more weeks, then I would give them the finger next time they yelled at me. I would also go on record legally of protecting the 6". Not sure if that requires them moving the fence or not, but your husband in RE will know.
posted by AugustWest at 9:32 PM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Calculate the dollar value of that 6". Chances are it's more than you want to let them steal. Never give up asshole privilege.
posted by sninctown at 9:36 PM on May 11, 2015 [29 favorites]

That 6in is reducing the value of your property. Having it in dispute when trying to sell it would also reduce the value to people who don't want to deal with the headache.

This is one of those things like a minor car repair issue, the longer you wait on it the more annoying and expensive it will become to deal with. Go after that now.
posted by emptythought at 9:57 PM on May 11, 2015 [22 favorites]

It sounds to me too like they're planning on selling. Perhaps they had an agent give them a value which was based on that common area, and recommended they fence it in to establish clear title for sale?

You said you're deeply involved in the social fabric of the neighborhood, are there any other neighbors who have a good relationship with both of you and who might intercede with some common sense? At the very least, they may have some background to share which would explain the behavior.
posted by frumiousb at 9:57 PM on May 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

You know, you're the one who's paying property taxes on that 6" of land that they've now usurped. I wouldn't want to be paying taxes for land I can't access. Tell them to move the fence. Now.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 9:59 PM on May 11, 2015 [57 favorites]

why in the world are they so angry about not being able to fence in part of the common ground and our side yard?

Because they wanted to give the impression (but not actually say, of course) that that was part of the property when they go to sell it. The flip side is, that applies to you, too when you go to sell. Now you have 6" x N feet less than you did, and it would have been way worse if you hadn't said anything.

Don't think that six inches was an error. They did that on purpose when you made them stick to their own property with the fence. Did they put the posts in themselves? I have a hard time imagining a contractor who knew there had just been a property line argument would build a fence without seeing the survey with his/her own eyeballs, or then screw it up by accident.

I'd send them a letter (and keep a copy) informing them that their fence is six inches on your property and you'd like to hear their proposal for how they plan to either compensate you for that or move the fence. What are they going to do, get mad at you?
posted by ctmf at 9:59 PM on May 11, 2015 [45 favorites]

The biggest problem here is that when either party sells there must be an easement that allows the fence on your property.
The agents/lawyers/title examiners will not allow either party to sell until this dispute is resolved with an easement or with removal.
If your husband is in real estate, speak to the title examiners and ask about what papers you will need. The neighbors will need to purchase the easement from you unless you choose to give it to them for free.
It's a very sticky problem that you will likely need lawyers to solve. I'm so sorry.
posted by littlewater at 10:08 PM on May 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

You may also want to go after the fence company to fix it, they should know better and do this kind of stuff all the time. Maybe a call to the fence company for removal is a start.
posted by littlewater at 10:10 PM on May 11, 2015 [9 favorites]

I very strongly vote for frumiousb's suggestion to get rational thinkers who are friendly with them to intercede on your behalf, even if you're going to go after them for that 6" encroachment. They sound awful, but they also sound like they have no particularly compelling reason (besides human decency, evidently lacking) to be nice to you; if they're approached by other folks in the community who they do have longstanding and valuable friendships with, they may see reason. (Or, if they have any standing in the community, the possibility of its erosion may be a powerful motivator!)
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:12 PM on May 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

You could also check whether you have the legal right to remove the fence since it's on property you own. You might be legally in the clear if you decided the best option was to remove it with a chainsaw.
posted by reeddavid at 10:32 PM on May 11, 2015

You can consult with a lawyer about your options and your rights for things like recording people without their consent.
If you plan to record telephone calls or in-person conversations (including by recording video that captures sound), you should be aware that there are federal and state wiretapping laws that may limit your ability to do so. These laws not only expose you to the risk of criminal prosecution, but also potentially give an injured party a civil claim for money damages against you.
Information about how to find an attorney in every state is available at the MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page. A lawyer may be able to help you resolve this in an amicable manner that also protects your legal and financial interests. AskMe can't give you legal advice on what to do according to the laws of your state, but AskMe can be a great resource for developing questions to ask an attorney.
posted by Little Dawn at 10:33 PM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

You might be legally in the clear if you decided the best option was to remove it with a chainsaw.

Jesus, no. You still have to live next to them, OP. Protect your interests, but do what you can to avoid a Hatfield-McCoy scenario like this.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:36 PM on May 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'd go for a temporary restraining order.

Some people have a higher tolerance for conflict, so much so that it becomes normalized. And some people are bullies. You can't change their behavior; all you can do is manage it.

So lay down the law, preferably in writing. Let them know that you expect the harassment to end immediately, that you will be documenting future instances, and that you will file a TRO if there is one more instance .

It sucks. But they tried to steal from you. That's not dementia. That's theft. You now know what kind of people they are.
posted by kanewai at 10:46 PM on May 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

When you make them move the fence, take pictures before and after. They're going to tear up your yard doing it and not want to fix it. Expect it, then be pleasantly surprised if that doesn't happen.

Seriously, what do they think you did wrong? Do they tell their friends, hey get a load of these guys, they complained when I tried to fence in property they paid for? And their friends say yeah, what a bunch of assholes? I mean, you brought it up proactively before they got any work done, you brought it up face-to-face first before they made you escalate. I can't even think of a rationalization to be mad at you for.
posted by ctmf at 10:52 PM on May 11, 2015 [16 favorites]

Vitriol and dementia go together sometimes. It doesn't sound like they are rational so I would try to not let it get to you, (so easy to say,) and think of it as mental illness talking. If you are worried about the future, document your interactions with them and record it if you like.
posted by Pembquist at 11:07 PM on May 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

After several bad experiences with a shouty neighbor, I mentally classified her as totally irrational. Two years later, she got over her desire to be mean to me about everything and now generally tries to be friendly. And I'm like "oh hi," *quick wave, fake smile, ducks inside*. That's the secret (/primary) weapon of people like us: the long game. Eventually they'll get over it, and you'll remember that they're liable to do unfair things or be mean when they feel like it and generally minimize their presence in your life. Going forward, you won't get your hopes up by unrealistic expectations that they'll behave in a fair-minded way.
posted by salvia at 11:55 PM on May 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

You can consult with a lawyer about your options and your rights for things like recording people without their consent.

US federal law allows one-party consent. According to that link there are 12 states with some form of two-party/multi-party consent required for recordings. One-party consent appears to be in effect here.
posted by i feel possessed at 2:28 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

They tried to steal something quite valuable from you. Just keep remembering that.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:02 AM on May 12, 2015 [14 favorites]

Yes, goodness, not only are you in the right, but I believe you also would be well within your rights to tear up the fence that is six inches onto your property. Giving them an opportunity to have it moved -- and it should be moved -- would be doing them a favor.

They're totally in the wrong here, and their actions are unacceptable. They have no right to make your life hell because you stopped them -- mostly -- from stealing your property. Document their harassment and take it to the neighborhood association as a first step. If that step fails to get results, go to the police. Good luck.
posted by Gelatin at 5:11 AM on May 12, 2015

Seriously, this bit amazes me: They will drive by our house and yell out the car window "We lost 13 feet of our yard because of you!"

Your husband proved to them, before they installed the fence, that it wasn't their yard. You can prove, right now, that their fence is six inches onto your property -- they're the ones taking your yard. You gave them the opportunity to reconsider their plans without involving anyone. They refused, so they're responsible for getting the trustees involved. Yeesh. Good luck dealing with these selfish people.
posted by Gelatin at 5:14 AM on May 12, 2015 [10 favorites]

Odd that the person or company installing the fence did not check it out, as is the usual practice. Maybe they knew they didn't have to, in a one-party-consent state, but it's usually the first thing they ask. It might make relocating the fence easier for those neighbors if the fence company has to do the work and bear the cost.
posted by mmiddle at 6:11 AM on May 12, 2015

Invite your neighborhood police to visit them to explain that what they are doing is illegal. Your children should not have to be afraid to play outside. And yes, I agree with everyone else, fix the 6 inches. It's going to bite you in the butt no matter what way you go. Get the butt bite out of the way now, while they are already mad. Don't drag this out any longer and certainly don't wait until they sell and you have to risk angering new neighbors.

These people have been there for a very long time. They have nothing better to do but to guard and control their space. The woman doesn't have any control over her own body which is probably making her a bit more territorial than someone who has more going on. You can't fix this. It isn't your fault. Don't be a victim. Ask the local police officer to encourage the neighbors to call the police whenever they have a problem with you or your family. Then, the police can explain to them that you are within your rights and mediate calm. The officer may even be able to hook them up with elder care options in your community.
posted by myselfasme at 6:14 AM on May 12, 2015 [13 favorites]

Do not give up that 6"! Your lot size often determines what you can build or what you can't. For example my lot size limits me to a two bedroom house (due to being on septic and near the town wells) and I have exactly 1/2 an acre. If I lost even a little bit of property it would make it much more difficult to do any work in the future. If you give up that 6" you might face similar restrictions. Even if you have no plans to build it will reduce your property value.

I'm not even sure how they could put in on your property. In my town fences need to be a foot inside the property line.

They already hate you and you've done nothing wrong. Continue doing nothing wrong by standing up for what is legally yours. They're not going to hate you any more.

And as others have said, document, document, document.
posted by bondcliff at 6:15 AM on May 12, 2015 [18 favorites]

You did the right thing. I'm an ass, I'd sure as hell go after them for the 6" if they keep the behaviour up, and I'd tell them so, hell I'd go after it anyway it's my damn land. But again I am an ass. The healthier solution is most likely to gather some video evidence of the abuse, heck holding up a camera & recording might make them shut up by it'self, then take the evidence to the cops & make a complaint.
posted by wwax at 6:24 AM on May 12, 2015

Tell them that you'll make a deal and let them have the 6" if they stop harassing you. Then tell them they have 3 more "free yells." Then each time they do something, tell them how many they have left before you make them remove the fence. "You have just 2 more. Enjoy!" When they reach 3, smile and say "One more and the fence comes out. " Then, if they don't stop, do it!
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:39 AM on May 12, 2015

Oh, and if you decide not to make a big deal out of the 6", at the very least have a lawyer draft up a letter and invoice where you tell them you are allowing them to "use and enjoy" your land for the time being for the annual fee of $1.00. That way you're still making a claim that it is your land and it won't magically become theirs if you let them use it for so many years.
posted by bondcliff at 6:44 AM on May 12, 2015 [21 favorites]

You did the right thing.

I have a lot of hag neighbors that want to complain about everything. Like I shouldn't walk my dog on the sidewalk in front of their house because she leaves shedding hair(?) and they can smell it.

I literally ignore them as if they don't exist. They can be having their hag protest a foot from my ear and I just ignore them. Just because they are old doesn't mean they get to make up their own rules about public ground. In my head I've reasoned they do this because they have nothing better to do because they are old and miserable about being old and that's not my problem. If they were to ever come on my property I would tell them to leave now and if they refused I would call the police regarding a senile person on my property.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:37 AM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I disagree with those who tell you to confront these neighbors. In spite of the clear evidence to the contrary, they believe that this was their property. So what? People believe lots of things that are contrary to clear facts (such as in the areas of politics and the environment, for instance). Especially old people. This old woman is looking out of her window and seeing a fence that is much closer to her house than she imagines it should be. Nothing will change her mind about that, and because she has few other outlets due to her disability she will obsess about this issue. Perhaps you can say, "Well, bless your heart", the next time she fusses at you.

As far as the 6 inches are concerned, you will not loose that land as long as you know and acknowledge the encroachment. You can even send them a letter giving them permission to encroach, with the stipulation that you are not giving up any ownership rights.

Neighbors can be hard to deal with. I feel your pain.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 7:48 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

You did everything right and proper. They brought the situation on themselves in the first place.

They will drive by our house and yell out the car window "We lost 13 feet of our yard because of you!"

This sort of behavior, coupled with the fact that they knowingly tried to annex your property, as well as common land, for themselves, makes me just a wee bit concerned. The more paranoid side of me suggests that you regularly check with the county and make sure they haven't flipped-out and filed any liens against your property, ala the Sovereign Citizen nutjobs.

Maybe get some security cameras installed, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:15 AM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, and if you decide not to make a big deal out of the 6", at the very least have a lawyer draft up a letter and invoice where you tell them you are allowing them to "use and enjoy" your land for the time being for the annual fee of $1.00. That way you're still making a claim that it is your land and it won't magically become theirs if you let them use it for so many years.
IAAL, IANYL, TINLA, etc., but this is the bare minimum you can do to protect your property rights, home value, etc., if you're not willing to fight them on the 6" (and you'd be insane not to). Specifically, this step protects you from an adverse possession claim by making it clear to your neighbors that they're doing what they're doing with your temporary permission and is limited just to them, not to their grantees; you should also record this in their property records at the county.

In case you can't tell from the WTF fave-train this AskMe has become, this situation you're in is a big deal beyond just "how do we live together?" :)
posted by resurrexit at 8:28 AM on May 12, 2015 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of your responses. At first, I was very fearful of the harassment that we faced from these neighbors and I was doing my best to avoid them. Now I feel more confident that we're not being unreasonable, especially under Missouri law.

My husband is going to be talking to the attorneys at work today to see what we can do.

The amazingly aggravating thing is that WE GAVE THEM A COPY OF OUR SURVEY and the neighborhood plat showing EXACTLY where the property lines are, yet they still made the decision to ignore them.

At least they didn't fence in the common ground, but now that I reflect on their encroachment onto our property, I find it more troubling.

Keep the responses coming. Thanks!
posted by Ostara at 8:35 AM on May 12, 2015 [12 favorites]

I get the feeling that they know it was technically wrong, they just don't think breaking the law is that serious in this particular regard. Like, "oh if those people were just more nice they'd let us have that yard, it's no big deal."

I think they probably have very limited real estate/tax/legal knowledge. Perhaps a lesson on why this matters from someone who is not you would help. Especially if they grok there are consequences to you (taxes, resale) besides just "don't get more yard" or whatever.
posted by quincunx at 8:50 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

In my county, if they continue to verbally harass you, you would have grounds for a civil harassment restraining order.
posted by phreckles at 8:54 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

We are having a very similar problem with our rear neighbor*. When we moved in we had the land surveyed between our houses and marked with some steel survey markers which she promptly had her son-in-law dig up. We got everything on video (which honestly was hilarious because digging out a survey marker is no easy feat, especially for an unfit 40 year old man). The next week she started to put up a fence and we called the city code enforcement since where we live your fence needs to be set back 1ft from the property line and hers was 2 feet OVER.

The city came out and gave her a citation and 30 days to remove the fence after which she faces a retroactive $100/week fine for every week it's there, capping out at $5,000. If she doesn't remove the fence by the time the fine caps out at 50 weeks we are legally allowed to tear it down as it's considered abandoned property and bill her for the cost (which will involve going to small claims court most likely). We're on week 26 and she said she has no intention of moving her fence or paying the fine and Mr. Jungle is very excited for the day when he can take down her ugly, crooked fence (seriously, use a level son-in-law!) and see her reaction.

*Rear neighbor has lived here since the houses were built in 1951 and is contending that since she is elderly we need to defer to her, she likes that extra space in the back and we should be nice to old people and give it to her. Umm no. If you've lived here since you were 12 you should know where the freaking property line is lady.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 9:05 AM on May 12, 2015 [21 favorites]

It's possible they're arguing over the fence line because they're old people who just don't really get what's going on.

It's also possible they're trying to claim more yard so they can do things with their own property that they otherwise wouldn't be able to do - driving up the value of their property (at the expense of yours) being the most obvious, but depending on other factors like the size of the lots involved and the zoning where you are, they might want to skirt around building setback lines or frontage issues in order to build a new wing on their house or a garage or deck or something; if the lots are close to double the minimum lot size in your zoning, they might even have calculated that they could subdivide their lot into two lots and sell one off if they stole a few hundred more square feet from you guys. I've seen people try all this stuff before.

What's more, the fact that, after they got called out on it, they didn't take any of the common area but still took 6" of your land suggests to me that they know what they're doing, because while they don't care if you guys are mad, they didn't want the homeowners' association (or whatever entity controls the common area) coming after them.

You'll almost certainly never be able to repair your relationship with these folks. Sad, but true. But that's entirely on them, not you guys - you know the old adage "good fences make good neighbors"? Well, the reverse is also true - and they're the ones that put up a shitty fence.

Do consult with a real estate lawyer before you do anything else; they should be able to help you figure out what these folks might really be about, and the appropriate course of action to take about it. In many cases, even just escalating to the "bring in the lawyers" level and having your lawyer send them a nastygram threatening legal action will be enough to get them to back down, move their fence, and won't cost you a ton of money.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2015 [10 favorites]

julie of the jungle has the right idea.
I did the same thing. Had our property surveyed and had wooden stakes every six feet put in to show the property line. The elderly backyard neighbors believed the back of their property was 120 feet from the center of their street. That was how they bought the house fifty years ago.
I suggested they have a survey done themselves to ensure I wasn't taking more than was mine.
They had a lawyer call and when i went to discuss the line with the husband he said his wife told him I can't be trusted.
They never went any further, fence went up, even the wooden survey stakes sit there six years later.
We don't talk but I as they say "good fences make good neighbors."
I would add that typically folks build a fence not "on the property line," but maybe six or twelve inches inside it. It is bizarre they would be moving it over onto your land. Perhaps a call to the fence company would clear up how they determined the location of the fence.
posted by ashtray elvis at 9:22 AM on May 12, 2015

Oh, I should also note another possibility: by building the fence on your property, they may be trying to make it so you are responsible for the costs of maintaining/repairing the fence. Another reason to get it moved, even that last six inches.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:26 AM on May 12, 2015 [14 favorites]

Yeah, it's all well and good to be respectful and kind to elderly people as a rule, but it doesn't give these folks a free pass to be aggressively rude to you and your children.

I also agree with comments upthread that their attempt to restrict your access and encroach upon the common ground plus their denial of the written documentation is...not rational thinking. Maybe it's a sign of dementia, maybe their mental health is under stress over other physical health issues or other things going on in their lives, who knows, but sounds like their paranoia is rising, and hopefully they've got kids who check in on them.
posted by desuetude at 9:28 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

The other possibility is that they're getting very, very bad advice about their property rights -- either drawn from stubborn ignorance or for scammy purposes -- from some other party who they trust. Maybe a real estate agent, maybe a family member, maybe another neighbor/friend who is their age.
posted by desuetude at 9:34 AM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm one of those attorneys who is constantly telling people it's not worth their time to sue, but I want to give you my opinion that talking to an attorney about this is the right thing to do. At the very least, the attorney will be able to guide you to the right local enforcement agency for complaints (both about the fence and the subsequent harassment). After you showed your niehgbors the survey and got the trustee involved, your neighbor still built a fence that encroaches on your property and now are behaving in an aggressive manner toward you. Finding the official channels for protecting your property rights and your peace of mind are probably necessary at this point.

Unfortunately, that's not going to help repair a relationship. I don't know how you smooth this over in a way that corrects the fence line and gets them to back off with the asshole shit because, according to your survey, they are in the wrong and they are already angry that you did not give them what they want. Their anger may eventually fade, but they may be assholes, in which case, be glad you have a fence and avoid them.

Ask your attorney if it will be alright for you to tell your neighbors "Hey, the fence is still in the wrong place and we want to give you the opportunity to correct it before we report you to the village enforcement agency. We have no choice but to report it because our attorney has advised of us real legal risks associated with allowing it to remain that we are not comfortable accepting." Warning them that they are about to be reported and likely cited may or may not be a good idea from an enforcement standpoint (your attorney will know, so follow her advice, not ours), but it is a neighborly thing to do. It also deflects the responsibility onto your attorney, which is part of our job sometimes.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:36 AM on May 12, 2015 [16 favorites]

This was already alluded to above, but to reiterate: depending on the laws, the fence may have to move 2 feet, not just 6", in order to allow maintenance access while still on the adjoining property.
posted by sapere aude at 10:07 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow this sounds terrible and I am sad you have to go through it. It's one of my homeowning nightmares come to life!

I will reiterate that when I read what you wrote, my first instinct was that they may be dealing with a medical issue (diagnosed or no). Not in a derogatory "lolz oldpeople amirite?" way, but a legitimate issue. Some of the people that I have known with Alzheimer's were generally very aggressive, even if they were the nicest people pre-Alzheimer's. That's not 100% the case, but it happens and it is sad when it does.

That said, I was involved in a fence dispute years ago. I was the gardener for someone and his neighbor would come out every week and yell at me about the fence, and how the people who had owned the house 4 ownerships ago (that is, the house had been sold 3 times since then) had encroached on HER lot! Keep in mind I wasn't even the homeowner. I eventually asked the homeowner if it would be possible to resolve the fence issue, as 3 hours of yelling per week was not what I had agreed to, and he did. The city surveyor came out, surveyed the lots, and brought the fence permits with him. He told her, yes, the fence was over the property line by 4 inches, but the fact that the fence had been there 25 years meant that she'd forfeited those 4 inches. She was livid. The next time she came out and yelled at me, I told her that it would probably be better to take up the issue with the city. Thankfully, she never bothered me again, but doing nothing really will lose you those 6" eventually. :(
posted by RogueTech at 10:45 AM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

I am dealing with a group of senior citizens currently who are fighting to not have sidewalks put in. We live adjacent to an elementary school and there are no sidewalks. Pedestrians walk in the street with traffic, to get to and from school. Recipe for disaster. I firmly believe that these folks are "holding on to" what they believe. They are facing tougher and tougher life decisions and rail against anything that will take them from their comfort zone, i.e., the known world.

You are right. They are wrong. They may forever be irrational but forever may not be that long. No cold comfort.

Sorry you have to deal with what is really a cut and dry issue.
posted by zerobyproxy at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with most of the posters above. Lawyer up and do not engage directly, do not engage directly, do not engage directly. Have a dedicated space (notebook or folder) to document ALL interactions. That said, I hate to be the person to bring this up but...supervise your dog closely in the yard until this is resolved. Sorry for your troubles; neighbors can be wack and impact you negatively in the place you most deserve and expect peace.
posted by Morrigan at 4:01 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

The kids are scared of these people, too. We feel like we can't use our own yard now without being yelled at.

Oh hell no! So glad you're meeting with local attorneys. You've gotten a lot of good advice here about how to use legal means to get your 6" of stolen land back from these wannabe thieves (that's what they are, full stop), so the 'enjoyment of your yard' piece is what I want to focus on. So they say they view you as troublemakers who "create a BIG stink and involve the trustees." Great! Now double down on that then! One of the best things about them having burned a bridge with you is that you don't have to feel bad about protecting your own rights. Document and report the threatening things they are saying and doing to you and yours in your space. Involve the trustees, the police, and your friends in the neighborhood. Do not suffer in silence.
posted by hush at 4:32 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: This is true. I don't think that they ever have liked us, now that bridge is burned for good. It's really unfortunate, as my husband and I are both introverts that hate conflict.

The last couple of times they've mowed their grass (he does mow his own grass even though he outsources the rest of the yard to to gardener) he has mowed 3/4 of the backyard and left the 1/4 nearest us long and shaggy. My husband and I have started referring to it as the "spite grass."

I'm supervising the dog when I am letting him out. You never know.
posted by Ostara at 6:29 PM on May 12, 2015 [16 favorites]

> Unfortunately, that's not going to help repair a relationship. I don't know how you smooth this over in a way that corrects the fence line and gets them to back off with the asshole shit because, according to your survey, they are in the wrong and they are already angry that you did not give them what they want.

One of the reasons I suggested an attorney may be able to assist with an amicable resolution is because a process like mediation [MeFi Wiki] can be excellent for providing a private space that allows all parties to be heard, and mediation can facilitate discussion about the emotional components that a court process is usually unable to address.

In a mediation session, your neighbors can talk about how angry they are, and you can talk about how your children are scared of them - this process could allow your neighbors to have a forum to vent, hear your response and then genuinely apologize for involving your children in what ultimately may be a misunderstanding about property boundaries.

If I sound starry-eyed about this possible option, it's because I've seen mediation move what otherwise seemed like unmovable mountains of strife. It may not be successful in a case like this, but it might be an affordable process that could also help you be sure that you've done everything possible to resolve the situation in an amicable manner. Your own attorney will likely be aware of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) resources in your area and can help you figure out a strategy that seems most appropriate for your situation. Every lawyer is likely to have a different style, and you can talk to several attorneys to figure out which one works best for you and your family. Conflict is often expensive, and looking for possible amicable resolutions may also help you find more affordable legal assistance.
posted by Little Dawn at 7:06 PM on May 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

Get the 6" back, while it is fresh in everyone's mind. This would be a serious pain to deal with later if you ever decide to sell your house.
posted by 4ster at 9:12 PM on May 12, 2015

Part of the reason property boundaries are such an emotional issue for some is that they are often open to interpretation, and any time there is a new survey or boundary dispute they may "lose" some of "their" land or have it "stolen" from them by a surveyor hired by someone else. Part of this is because property boundaries are determined through a mix of the math, laws (current and former) and local customs. In a perfect world, all three would agree, but that does not always happen. Property surveys, even those performed by the same surveyor at different times, do not always agree. This is why there is usually regulations on how close to the line you can build certain structures. Most times when you put up a fence or tree line on your own, you would want to put it inside your own property. That does not mean you necessarily give up your land on the other side, as long as both sides are aware that that might not be the boundary, even if they do not agree. Whenever possible, you would want to build a boundary fence with your neighbor and split the costs, but having the fence exactly on the line.

In your case, there is likely a reason your neighbors believe in their version of the boundary. A lot of times they will measure from the center of a road or from another lots survey stakes, or perhaps from their own survey that was performed when they bought the property. In most cases those surveys are looking for gross errors or to make sure there are no structures within close proximity of the boundary, not necessarily to settle a 6" dispute over a boundary. It is possible that your neighbor is correct and you are wrong.

I would have to agree that you did the right thing by addressing the issue with the common area and the encroachment of the fence on your property. However, at this point, before escalating the situation any further, I would consult with the original surveyor that performed your survey to see if there is any room for interpretation for their survey. Best case scenario for you to deflate the situation would be to have you and your neighbor hire an independent surveyor to demarcate your boundaries and split the cost of relocation the fence if needed.

To put things in perspective, the 6" x 15' strip of land in question is less than 8 square ft, which at $50-100k per acre in your area comes in likely little south of $20 for the whole strip. A survey is going to cost considerably more than that, but could go a long way to ease relations between you and your neighbors. The important thing is that you should both pay for the survey and you should let the neighbors pick the surveyor so there is no perception of bias.
posted by Yorrick at 12:26 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

The last couple of times they've mowed their grass (he does mow his own grass even though he outsources the rest of the yard to to gardener) he has mowed 3/4 of the backyard and left the 1/4 nearest us long and shaggy.

If you have neighborhood trustees or a homeowners' association, I wonder if this (childish) action places them in violation yet again. Or perhaps in violation of your city's codes.
posted by Gelatin at 5:52 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

People get quite nutty about land; it seems kind of atavistic. I had house where the lots were obviously all rectangles, the plot plan was ordinary, and my neighbor decided to do his own survey, himself, and decided that his lot was a trapezoid, and contained some of my lot. He was an asshole anyway, and I pulled stakes he put in my lawn, literally laughed at him and asked what he was smoking. I'm sorry you have to go through this, but, hey, they're moving, so it will get better.

They will tell the buyers that you are crazy and evil, so take over a pie or something to smooth the way when you get new neighbors.
posted by theora55 at 7:23 AM on May 13, 2015

Telling buyers (assuming that they are going to sell and so there are buyers) that the neighbors are evil is not a great way to sell a house, so I don't know that I'd worry too much about that. But welcoming new neighbors (assuming you get new neighbors) is still a good thing to do.
posted by jaguar at 8:29 AM on May 13, 2015

Oh, jaguar, don't underestimate people and their ability to be weird. I think our sellers' real estate agent wanted to duct tape the seller's mouth shut by the time we were done signing paperwork. We learned a LOT of useful negative things from her during the signing - luckily for her, we really wanted the house regardless.
posted by RogueTech at 9:34 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We're stuck with them -- I don't think that they are moving (though one can hope!)

I'm not mean enough to make them move the fence ... yet. I think that the aim of talking to the real estate attorney will be to somehow grant them an easement or to acknowledge the encroachment so we don't lose rights to that part of the lot in the future.

We'd want to leave open the possibility of making them move the fence, though, in case this drive-by harassment continues. If they're going to be jerks about it, that can work both ways. (And really, that's part of our lot, so we're not really being jerks. But you know they'd see it that way).

I need to go out and find the pin to determine the corner of the lot. When we first moved in and the surveyor put a stake there, the stake was quickly broken off at the ground. At the time I thought it was because they accidentally hit it with the mower of something -- but now I think it was probably deliberate.
posted by Ostara at 9:42 AM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Joining in with the above, I think it's a mistake to think you'd be mean to make them move the fence.

Could you ask the neighborhood trustee or other relevant official to do an inspection of the completed fence? It might help you feel more comfortable if enforcement action is lead by the government rather than yourself.
posted by JackBurden at 6:27 PM on May 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't think you being jerks enters into it. You're not jerks for protecting yourselves and you should stop thinking of yourselves that way. You should be thinking that these people are not acting rationally and they're trying to take something from you that is not theirs to take and that you're doing the only things you can do to make sure they don't harm your property value with their entitled shenanigans.

Their age is not relevant insofar as they're literally overstepping their boundaries. Their age and health may be making them more cantankerous but entitled people of any age might try to pull something like this. You don't owe them respect because they're old. You don't owe them part of your property because they're old and they're angry that they didn't get their way. If you don't take care of this 6" discrepancy they're claiming from you, it will eventually become legally theirs due to your inaction. Is that what you want to happen?

It's about protecting the resale value of your property and clearing up any potential issues that may come up if/when you want to sell. Or maybe you'll want to refinance or borrow against the house and the bank will start questioning why your property is now smaller than it was when you first bought it. Do you really want to be figuring these things out 10, 20 or 30 years from now when you could have just taken care of the problem quickly and cleanly while their ire is already high? What about after they die and you have to try to explain to their children or some strangers that no, really, that land belongs to you?

I think that waiting to enforce your property rights based on whether they stop harassing you is a huge mistake. You're showing them that all they have to do to get what they want is to play nice. Meanwhile, they'll still have your 6" swath of land and eventually they'll have ownership of it. Allowing them to take over even this small part of your property could have financial or legal ramifications down the line. Save yourself the future hassle and fix the issue now while you have the legal standing to do so.
posted by i feel possessed at 9:59 PM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

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