March 28, 2006

Litigious George: We live next to a construction site. Last Wednesday, they decided to remove some trees that were right on their side of the property. Along the way, they dismantled my fence and removed some wood from my property...

What do I do about this? The trees' roots had gone under the fence in places, so I'm pleased in one way. However, they didn't ask permission to dismantle the fence - Mrs. Helper came home to find the fence taken apart. They did put it back together on Friday, but it's not back to where it was beforehand. The posts wobble, the pole-caps are crooked, and all the metal brackets are twisted 'round. I want them to pay to have the fence repaired to my standards minimally, at best they'd let me choose a repairman and accept the bill. Then there's the matter of some wood they removed. We had a pile of branches of the aforementioned pines as well as branches of our own maples that had fallen. The pine branches were cut at our own expense because they overhung our chimney. We submitted them a bill that the developer offered to pay, but he has yet to make good. The tree work wasn't cheap, so we figured keeping a few of the pine branches was reasonable recompense. It's possible they believed they were doing us a favor by removing the "brush", but it was definitely on our property and we didn't ask them to remove it. Do I sue them outright? Get a lawyer and serve them a request to make good?

  • Tell your story to whoever is the head of the construction company and see if they will be willing to compensate you, which a respectable company would hopefully do. Don't come out with a lawsuit first, that should be a last resort thing. Also consider the fact that the construction project might be run by the mob and they took your fence and wood to sell on the black market, at which point you should let it go and keep your mouth shut.
  • Make sure you have some sort of proof of the prior state of the fence -- photos or something, to show that it's now inferior. Do builders in your area have an association (like here in NZ, we have the Master Builders' Association. You don't have to be a member but it makes you look better if you are) that you could speak to? Speak to as many higher-ups as you can before talking to a lawyer. Document everything with dates and the like.
  • We have cops throughout the family. Not knowing where you live, all I can advise you to do is look up the local laws and figure out who's responsible, but do so quickly. If the contractor or property owner is responsible (or said parties insurance companies), a settlement off the books for something trivial is probably the best bet. Anything regarding plumbing, electrical work or significant structure would need inspection and dollars and debate to address, but some fencing is rather trivial in comparison. Approach the party you think most likely to be responsible, be civil even if he/she is not, and find any photos you might have of the condition of the fence beforehand. And, be reasonable. No court will compel anyone to provide you with a new fence if the old one was a tinkertoy deathtrap. Being made whole is a concept of law that will ensure you are appointed pretty much the same fence that was destroyed. Oh, and check your property lines. If it was on their land, even by a hair, they ruined their fence, not yours.
  • You're probably just out of luck on the removed wood. You'd have a hell of a time proving to anyone that some yard waste had real value unless it was perhaps some exotic wood you were drying for wood working into an income deriving product. But then, you wouldn't be doing that in the yard. The remainder of the fence should be indicative of the quality that the mangled part should be returned to. Be persistent in getting it returned to that but suing is probably not advantageous anyways. Tally up the costs for taking time from work, or even just the bother of spending the time commuting to some court. Add in filing fees and whatever other costs your local government is going to add on for you. In my area even just small claims court is somewhere around $130 just to file and get a date. Never mind that papers have to be served and time taken from my life. From what you describe of the fence it doesn't sound all that expensive to fix. One of the considerations in legal circles is if it's worth bothering to act. Big corporations hate nuisance lawsuits. They're not valid but it'll cost more to defend them than what they'll lose by just settling outright. So when they can't bluff or otherwise talk their way out they'll just settle out of court as it costs less money. Ask nicely but firmly and tally your costs--in dollars and frustration. Life sucks sometimes. You might just end up paying yourself for the fix.
  • Don't forget also that in almost any sort of small claims court situation like this, it might be best to try a mediator first. Mediation can help settle this more cheaply and civilly than having to drag yourself to court, which always is a pain in the rear.
  • The first step is to go talk to them. "You guys really screwed up my fence. Will you fix it?" Asking the people directly is always be best first step. If you ask and they say no, then they are the jerks. If you don't ask and just take them to court, then you are the jerk.
  • RPG and a flamethrower. It will, at least, make sure they never do it again.
  • I'd posted this after talking to the owner of the development, who has been extremely unresponsive to other neighbors' concerns. I was reasonably positive that my requests would go nowhere. This morning I caught up with the foreman (site supervisor maybe?) and explained my grievances. He was very nice and offered immediately to repour the anchors if necessary and replace the splintered corner-pole, pole caps, and braces. Thanks for all the advice - I still worry that they won't actually complete the repairs properly and that I'll have to go the "next step" of mediation, but I really do want to avoid the courts. Man, on review I do sound like a whiny little bitch in the original post...
  • I find vigorously shaking a cane and hollerin' "get offa my properteh!" works wonders. Granted, you didn't have a cane at the time, and the damage is done. Might I suggest flaming (paper, not plastic) bags of dog poop?
  • One word: Wapner.
  • Two words: Judge Judy
  • Are you sure the fence was on your property, as in absolutely, positively? As in you have surveying documents to prove that? If not, hire a surveyor. The odds are the construction company did have a surveyor establish the boundary lines and if the fence was on their property even by 1 inch, they have the full rights to do whatever they want.