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Question DetailsAsked on 12/8/2016

Neighbor has an unkept wall of rotten firewood (20+ years) full of leaves over 8" deep on lotline in front of yard

County says wood should be removed in an inspection & report
Town allows this and is fighting with county
Neighbor is spiteful and reminds neighbors no one can touch him, he knows people in the town
Wood pile/leaves is a fire hazard
Woodpile/leaves are wet creating mosquito issues
Tends to harbor garbage and rodents including field mice
Nowhere to turn.... Local town officials side with neighbor
The wood/leaves is on a water easement, with drainage sewer in back. Wood prevent water flow and pools water
I hired a lawyer.. Town map shows water easement, but has no constrains on homeowner to maintain.
So Town is not liable to maintain, neighbor is not required to maintain, lawyer cannot enforce... Spiteful, "connected" neighbor lives on to aggravate all neighbors
Where can we turn?

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3 Answers

Voted Best Answer
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Wow - this is the third "Hatfield and McCoys" question in the last day or so.


This is a "civil" matter rather than criminal - but planning and zoning and building codes are civil codes and regulations designed to regulate such "civil" matters, so if you yelp loud enough to be a nuisance to them or get a supearvisor's attention they should address it on your behalf if it falls under the jurisdiction of their entity.


Generally, if YOU hold a water easement for surface drainage, then with proper notification per state law (to let him do the work himself if he prefers) you as an easement holder (if the easement was granted to your property, not to a public drainage control entity orthe government) would have a right to go onto his property and remedy drainage issues. Your attorney can explain the ifs, ands, and buts, and of course with a "spiteful" neighbor there are liabilities involved in that.


If this is a water PIPE easement, then that would not apply except as necessary to access the water pipe for repair - i.e. to move the pile to gain access to dig up the pipe, and even then only moving it for access, not "destroying" or removing it.


If the easement IS for surface drainage but is held or "owned" by the county drainage board or street department or such, then you would have to file a complaint with and against THEM about "their" drainage overflowing onto your property, thereby (by complaint or legal court action) forcing THEM to clear the blockage on the neighbor's property - if it is indeed blocking the flow enough that it causes overflow onto or causes near-surface water migration and flooding of your property. The plat for that subdivision should list any details on the easement and to whom the right was granted and for what purpose - might be included in the property description documents from when you bought the home (usually in the Title Insurance package), but commonly is only in the title company set, not the homeowners. See at county recorders/clerks office in most areas, local courts or state recorder's office in some states. Your attorney will know how to get a copy of it.


So - normal runoff into your lower elevation yard is generally your problem - but if the adjacent property concentrated the water or blocks or diverts it to a place it did not originally naturally run, they or the property owner are responsible for damage from it and for preventing such "unnatural" flow from damaging your property or free and unencumbered use of it (like it becomes a swamp or lake).


If your area has mosquite abatement regulations, you could talk to the mosquito abatement agency or district about getting THEM to enforce removal of the mosquito haven by the neighbor.


If an area with serious wildfire hazards, depending on how close this is to a house, the fire department/fire marshall might also take an enforcement action.


I would talk to the county/city planning and zoning departments and maybe the building department too and any drainage or mosquito board about what regulations apply there. Also on whether either of those agencies will do anything to help you.


It is also possible, if uyou can demonstrate (photos) that rats (generally they don't worry about field mice) are living there, the county/city Health department might take action against the homeowner on the basis of maintaining a public health hazard.


Whether the county or city controls there would likely depend on the class of city and county / city charters - generally county regulations/laws would control but in First Class cities and some areas lower class cities, they are considered to be "replacement" jurisdictions to the county so their rules apply in that case, within city limits. Also, if there is a stormwater control district encompassing your properties they might have jurisdiction instead.


If they admit the neighbor property appears to be causing a problem and could fall under their jurisdiction but refuse to help you still, then you could (depending on which jurisdiction controls your property) take up the issue with the department head, and the next escalation would likely be to the Planning and Zoning Board, then maybe to the County/City Attorney's office or ombudsman complaining about their refusal to enforce regulations, then to the city/county manager, then ultimately to the County Board of Supervisors or Commissioners - or at city level to the City Assembly or Town Council or whatever term they use in your area.


Depending on the outcome of that, you next step (or maybe once you get to department head level without satisfaction) would be having your attorney (or you might have him do the above contacts) send them a abatement letter - a legal letter demanding the property or easement owner "abate" or cure the damage they are causing you (assuming this flow is outside or overflowing the existing natural runoff channels in the area). If that fails to get satisfactory results, then your choices would be to file a damage claim against the neighbor and THEIR insurance policy, or to file a lawsuit for trespass (by their water) or under water control regulations or statutes which may apply in your state - commonly under either Trespass or Public Nuisance laws.


Note when trying to get a city/county agency to go to bat for you, a WRITTEN complaint (especially if coming from an attorney) bears a LOT more weight with them because once you put it in writing it is officially on-the-record and failure to take action makes them potentially liable so they tend to start sending out inspectors and sending notice to the offending party to clean up their act.


Of course, actions of these types will undoubtedly result in some action by the neighbor - like commonly a continuing battle of complaints one against the other for trash, not raking leaves, lawn not mowed perfectly, noise, garbage can being 3 inches onto the sidewalk, etc.


One other thing - you have not said if you have spoken directly to the neighbor about this - sounds like you think he is being spiteful, but if you offer to pay a reasonable amount to have it removed, he might go for that. Your attorney would have to write up an iron-clad agreement, possibly holding the money in escrow, to be paid to him once it is satisfactorily cleaned up. Given the apparent animosity between you, perhaps your attorney should be the one to approach him with a written offer to pay X amount for complete removal off-site of the woodpile, and for not placing any other wood pile or debris or stacked/piled material within X feet of your property line as long as he lives there. Sometimes it is amazing what effect a few hundred to $500 will have with comeone like that - but the agreement would have to be ironclad to prevent him from doing something ELSE to annoy you - imagine a flock of 10 foot tall pink plastic flamingos grazing along the property line, for instance.


Saw that one time - also a slew of obnoxious cheap box store/thrift store type lawn decorations and animals painted in the most disgusting colors, lined up right along the prieprty line by a spiteful neighbor - so you need to consider the consequences of possible excalation if you pursue this - your best (and cheapest) solution might be a mosquito magnet and mouse traps on your side of the line. Maybe even one of those obnoxious mosquite traps with the loudly buzzing blue light ...... just stoking the Hatfield and McCoy fire here ;>)


Answered 1 year ago by LCD

0
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Answered 1 year ago by Member Services

0
Votes

Hatfield & McCoy answer was excellent. Sounds like a very knowledgeable gentlemen or even an accomplished lawyer. It covers all paths & issues I have dealt with in this issue over the past 12 years. Makes me a believer as a first time patron of Angies List Answers.


Mr. Hatfield & McCoy, please let me expand on my situation:

Background:

1) I live in a very well to do neighborhhood. It is all custom built homes, none a like.

It is on a 1.0 mi, one way in, horseshoe drive that ends in a cul-de-sac.

2) I am one house from the cul-de-sac--> the original first builders show case home in a homearama.

3) I have resided here for 31 years- 2nd owner

4) The neighbor from hell has residing here for 35 years. Talks to and has only 3

friends in the entire neighborhood... Birds of a feather flocking together as

no one talks to them

5) When I moved in the owners wife cried- only reason she was moving was because of the neighbor

6) The neighbor from hell was one of 2 people fired from a well known company

in over 100 years.

Has never moved up in his current job, changing over 1/2 dozen companies.


I have taken all the steps you have indicated and more with a Town Road block in all instances. All these with patience as the timeframe elapsed was 12 years to date.

Steps taken:

1) Town code compliance. Originally wrote up the neighbor to remove rotten wood from backyard. I have a copy of the written document.

a) When the wood was moved along the lot line, along the entire house & part of the front yard, I re-contacted code compliance. Requirement was "remove" not "move"

b) Code compliance said it was firewood & did not have to be piled neatly.

Rotten wood can be burned.

Neighbor has a non working fireplace chimney-cracked, sealed illegally with roofing tar.

Code Compliance would not help.

2) Called the DEC based upon mosquitos, rats, field mice. They said it was wrong and if it was within their jurisdiction they would have it remedied. They suggested I contact County Health Dept.

3) County Health Dept. came down, wrote it up requesting the Town have it remedied. They cited mosquitos, overgrown vegetation, harboring animals. Town ignored it. County Health Dept. talked to them twice. Town says its

their jurisdiction, back off. I have copies of the report and the log of calls

4) Back to Town Code Compliance. Is this not an unsafe fence? They have no permit. Ans. per Town: "No this is an unkept wood pile." Should not rotten wood & leaves fall under Town code Compliance laws for property maintenace- Ans per Town: "No firewood in the forest can be rotten."

5) Tried the Fire Dept. for fire hazard, codes wherein wood structures must be 5 ft from Property line and have a firewall. Ans. - "I must work with Town code compliance"

6) Tried thru my Insurance agency to write a letter alerting them of condition and stating they will be responsible for future damage from water, fire, or termintes, etc.- They will not write a letter.

7) Tried thru Water Dept. many times. I have had them come up and clean out sewer grate & line 2x per year- for the last 3 years. as the grate is plugged by leaves. Each time they are amazed at the accumulation of plugged sewer.Neighbor has a lawn service & tells them to blow leaves into the valley & over the grate since it costs more to remove. I have even heard the service tell him that this is wrong. He says I pay you, do what I tell you to do. I tried to get the Water Dept. to request

Town Code Comp to remove wood & leaves. Ans. "They can walk over the wood."

8) Tried thru local Pastor. Response from neighbor from hell to Pastor- "I have no time for you"

9) Neighbors- a half dozen neighbors have complained multiple times in multiple years- Town does not move.

10) Contacted local assemblyman. If Town is part of county and Town will not abide County Citation request is not the State over the County which is over the Town? After 3

weeks the ans. "the Town does ot want to get involved at this time."

11) Hired a well known attorney. Town map shows water easement draining

6 houses to a landscaped valley where there is a storm sewer connected to the street storm sewer. It is 10 ft wide: 5 ft on my property, 5 ft on the neighbors. There is no statements as to who has the responsibility to maintain the easement. After 4 months and a $2,500.00 all I got was a verbal commitment from the neighbor to the lawyer to clean out the top of the grate-This has been done only once. Nothing in writing, no future commitment. Lawyer talked multiple times with Town- no movement. An education costs money, but this was too much for too little.

12) Fence: I got a permit to erect a 6 ft dog eared wood privacy fence. Problem is

due to a drainage pipe in the easement, I have to inset the fence 1.5 ft past the easement onto my land-- casuing me to give up 5 ft + 1.5 ft. - No way.

I erected a temporary vinyl ivy privacy fence on the lot line using new garden stakes. Cost $ 160.

Great that I do not have to look at the mess, but I still have water issues (lost grass, mud), mosquitos, animals, garabage over wood pile do not abide by property lines.


I was hoping to find something I missed or a unique solution others have found.


Thank you very much for your excellent response, time and effort


Answered 1 year ago by Sam2016

0
Votes

NOT an attorney though I have taken a number of construction and land rights law courses as professional improvement courses and in support of surveying work - but I do have about 60 years in construction/buildiung trades and also living in rural/suburban areas where this sort of thing happened at times (thankfully not directly to me), so have run into similar situations on jobs and also horror stories from neighbors about the neighbors from hell and such.


Oh - BTW - Hatfield and McCoy is not a firm name - referred to the old (mid 1800's as I recall) Rebel/Yankee and land ownership shooting dispute between two WV / Kentucky families that ran for decades and ended up with something like a few dozen family members dead. Hopefully not where your case is heading, but you need to be careful - obstinate or unneighborly neighbors can become "crazy" neighbors without warning over time, so you need to weigh benefits versus risks here for what is a fairly minor situation and probably can be remedied with a bit of berming on your side of the fence to keep surface runoff mostly on his side of the fence (though you cannot block "natural" drainage onto your land if the woodpile was not there).


OK - sounds like you walked into a snakepit, perhaps knowlingly (depending on when the prior owner's wife told you why they were moving) - but of course while you might have had recourse soon after the sale if the bad neighbor issue was not disclosed at time of sale, way too late to have any recourse against your home's previous owners at this late date.


Sounds to me like (if their orders to him are not recent) getting county and water district and city and health department to inspect again (file a WRITTEN complaint with each) and issue an abatement notice to him so you have a CURRENT enforcement letter from respective agencies to the landowner to abate the issue, then with all those go to the city manager or mayor or city assembly/council demanding enforcement. Of course, a petition signed by all affected property owners (other than the offender of course) would carry more weight too - or a group presenting the paperwork and a petition to the council/assembly.


If they refuse then your only option is to go to court for an enforcement order and an injunction against the city to force abatement, and to him from storing anything there in the future which can block water flow, and including in the order that he keep any portion of the grate on his property clear of debris for water inflow.


Other alternative is an adminstrative court or superior court order (depending on how the drainage agency is set up legally) to the drainage district forcing them to clean it up to maintain the drainage easement - whether that works depends on their actual responsibility for it. Again, additional affected neighbor affidavits or co-plaintiffswould help your case too.


Either of these would be an abatement order or permanent injunction (better) to abate a public nuisance and to abate damage to your property from the water. But would normally be another $1000-2500 legal fees for either of those options, because you are unlikley to be able to push it thorugh yourself.


Hate to say it, but if you have had an attorney for a substantial time and he has not proposed this solution to you, might be he is part of the old-boys network with this guy too, and you need an local (county) but not in-town attorney or a younger, newer to area attorney to carry your case for you.


One other alternative - call them repeatedly as needed, or if non-responsive work up a written letter (which you can redate and send again when needed) to the drainage district/agency stating you are experiencing water damage due to blockage of the drain and asking them to clean it - and resend this as often as necessary - every few weeks if needed due to the lawn care company blocking the drain.


Lawyer could also send a letter to the lawn care company notifying them of potential legal and financial laibility from blocking the drain as it causes damage to your property - that alone might cause the contractor to refuse to put the leaves and cuttings there - though neighbor might just tell them to blow them onto your fence instead, in that case - so might or might not help.


Good luck.

Answered 1 year ago by LCD




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