Daniel Belzil, an attorney representing plaintiffs in insurance litigation, has been involved in numerous lawsuits. No one prepared him for the bitterness that ensued when his neighbor erected a chain link fence over what he believed to be a legally shared dirt driveway.
“It was a bare-knuckle boxing match,” he said.
Mr Belzil said his neighbor in the village of Fleischmanns, New York state, the Vasquez family, built an ugly fence preventing his family from driving onto his own property.
His neighbors argued they built the fence to prevent Mr Belzil from parking on what they considered an easement – meaning it was their property, although Mr Belzil was allowed to drive through.
A chain link fence sparked a legal battle between Daniel Belzil and his neighbor in upstate New York.
Photo: Belzil family
In November 2020, 12 days after the fence was erected, he sued. The case continued even after his neighbor sold the house. It finally settled down in October. Lawyers for his former neighbor did not respond for comment.
Neighbors have been arguing about fences, hedges and property lines for a long time. But lawyers involved in such entanglements say the pandemic, which has kept many people and their neighbors at home — and nagged one another — has made suburban sparring particularly toxic. The resentment, they say, has not abated. Recent allegations have touched on issues such as flying dirt, plant pots being placed and stray balls bouncing into a yard.
“It’s not about money,” said attorney Simon Offord, who is representing a couple in a California driveway boundary dispute that he equated with World War III.
“Their emotions drive how they handle the cases,” he added, “instead of dollars and cents as with business decisions.”
The main reasons for flapping between neighbors are trees, fences, parking lots and noise, “probably in that order,” said Emily Doskow, an attorney and mediator who edited the book Neighbor Law. “Everyone knows that problems with neighbors are one of the worst killers of any quality of life.”
The New York Peace Institute, a nonprofit that helps people resolve conflicts, has received more calls about neighborhood disputes during the pandemic, said Jessica Lopez, a program manager who coordinates mediations. Two years later, the caseload hasn’t slowed, she said, adding, “It’s a new normal.”
A recent case in Savannah, Georgia involved a garden wall and a three-story house extension. Local historic preservation codes required Thomas and Allison White, who were expanding their home, to apply molding to the portion of the addition that faces their neighbor Jeanne Glover’s courtyard.
Ms Glover “made no secret” that she didn’t like the extension, a judge later wrote.
In August 2020, after Whites asked if they could come to her backyard to apply the stucco, Ms. Glover sued. Their argument: because whites could not apply stucco without going into their yard, which they would not allow, their neighbors’ cultivation could never gain approval.
She placed nine flowerpots on her wall and built a two-story scaffolding in her garden to guard against any intrusion, including into her airspace. The judge prohibited Ms. Glover from placing objects on the garden wall and disturbing the plaster appliqué.
A legal battle over the claims for damages claimed by the whites is pending. Her attorney declined to comment. A lawyer for Ms Glover declined to comment.
Mr Belzil, along with his wife and son, said the fence dispute would not be fully settled until his neighbor sold his house.
Photo: Christy Asbee
A dispute in Pearland, Texas, has been slowly simmering since Lenny Payne Jr. removed a concrete walkway he shared with neighbors Drew Tiner and Christine Norman-Tiner, according to a lawsuit the couple filed in July over a row of disputes has filed . Mr. Payne, according to the lawsuit, claimed he owned the sidewalk area and could do with it as he pleased.
Mr. Payne set up his garden which allegedly caused flooding on their property and required them to install a drain. Her lawsuit also alleged that as of 2020, Mr Payne yelled at her then-12-year-old son and refused to return basketballs that bounced in his yard.
Mr Tiner claimed in an affidavit that Mr Payne started yelling at him while he was cleaning the drain last July and alleged that Mr Tiner threw pine needles in Payne’s backyard. Mr. Tiner told his neighbor that he would get the needles – if there were any – when he finished cleaning.
“Lenny grabbed a handful of dirt, mulch, rocks and debris and threw them at my head,” Mr. Tiner recalled in the affidavit.
Mr Payne declined to comment. A lawyer for the Tiners did not respond to requests for comment.
A fence battle in California became so violent that criminal charges were filed.
Dentist Toan Nguyen bought a million-dollar home in Huntington Beach that he planned to tear down and build his family’s dream home.
According to a lawsuit Mr Nguyen filed in August 2022, his neighbors, the Buffas, tried to persuade other neighbors to stop Mr Nguyen from building his new home. Other neighbors refused, the lawsuit said.
For months after construction began, the lawsuit alleges, the Buffas parked their Land Rover in front of Mr. Nguyen’s home, temporarily blocking a crane moving steel beams.
After workers applied fresh stucco to a wall separating the two properties in 2021, Karafaye Buffa blasted the material with a garden hose, according to the lawsuit, after which Mr Nguyen held up a piece of plywood to shield his wall. He is now demanding damages, including for willful infliction of emotional distress.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office charged Ms. Buffa with assault and vandalism. She pleaded not guilty and her trial is scheduled to begin on February 27.
Fred Thiagarajah, an attorney for Ms Buffa, said his client was cleaning dried stucco shavings from her lawn when water accidentally splashed on Mr Nguyen’s wall and shirt.
“This alleged crime is a joke,” Mr Thiagarajah said.
write to Corinne Ramey at [email protected]
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