Getting1 served with legal papers always brightens my morning. “Honey, the constable’s here!” “What, again? Stall the bastard while I sharpen the dog’s teeth.”
Right. Well, four years ago my daughter needed better schooling, so we moved from our rural compound to a bungalow on a quiet street just up the hill from a hip downtown shopping/art district. Said house was in an excellent school zone and had a double lot. We were sold, but had one last chore:
Scope out the neighbors.
I ALWAYS scope out the neighbors before buying a house. Neighbor trouble is the worst, man…makes it so you can’t even relax in your own home. Learned that the hard way twenty years ago when we moved into a re-gentrifying neighborhood in Boston and discovered our neighbors were noisy-ass slobs with a pack of egg-flinging visigoth children. Zeke was nice enough, but he was morbidly obese and lazy and liked to lounge on his front steps clad in only his pajama bottoms and drinking Tab after Tab. His wife had a sour disposition, a handlebar mustache, and a screech to shame a howler monkey.
I mean no disrespect to howler monkeys.
Christ, one time we got woken up and evacuated at something like 3:30 AM by a SWAT lieutenant because Zeke’s crazy uncle had holed up in their back stairs and was threatening suicide-by-cop over some kinky drug debt. The boys in Kevlar didn’t want us taking stray rounds. Nice, huh?
Hence the last thing we did before putting in a bid for this hip new bungalow was to walk around knocking on doors and introducing ourselves and being friendly and asking after the neighborhood’s general health.
Which was excellent. So we bought the place and moved in only to discover the house next door was abandoned. We’d rung the doorbell thrice and nobody answered, but at the time it was in decent repair and the front yard was more or less kempt, so we shrugged. After the closing a neighbor filled us in: the old lady who owned it was in a nursing home and the family lived two states away.
We therefore did the decent thing: kept an eye out, cleared the fence line of kudzu, notified the family when the A/C blower ground to a halt, tested the outside spigots when an Arctic blast froze neighboring pipes, etc.
Four years later, after the raccoons had occupied the attic and much of the vinyl siding had fallen off and a three-by-three section of shingles had blown away, the old lady finally passed. The family instantly showed up to sell the place. That’s when the bitchery began.
They said I’d broken their mailbox, was illegally parking my box trailer on the public street in front of the house, was trespassing at will, was encroaching the property line with the aforementioned fence, had killed off their ornamental vines,2 and—get this—we were too noisy at night. Which was all bullshit, but whatever. Remember this was an ABANDONED HOUSE, and we were still a long way from early-morning SWAT raids.
They staged an enormous estate sale, which we of course cooperated with in terms of parking and traffic and giving strangers directions and such.3 And then they noticed…but their lawyers explained it better than I can.
This lovely cease-and-desist arrived by US mail, signature required. I read and reviewed it, called my insurance agent, got a preemptive claim started,4 and spoked with the adjuster.
We discussed the situation. She sent out a structural engineer for a survey. He showed up and walked around and took pictures and wrote a report establishing that per the laws of hydrodynamics and the percolation of the soil and the minuscule volume of water issuing from the drainpipe, our drainage had literally zero chance of crossing over.
Furthermore, the lack of gutters on their house and the missing shingles and the deteriorating brick foundation meant the basement swimming pool arose entirely from their own neglect. He also explained that our county has a “drainage easement,” meaning a downhill owner has to accept and deal with water flow from uphill property. They were indeed slightly downhill from us.
“Let ‘em sue,” he concluded. “I’ll tear ‘em up in court.”
That’s where it stands. I haven’t heard squat from those people since their cease-and-desist showed up. Hopefully the house’ll sell soon.
So here’s the pro-tip: go meet the surrounding neighbors when you’re thinking about buying a house. And if you should buy it, do this:
After a while, when prospective buyers of nearby houses come over and ring your doorbell to scope you out, answer the door promptly and shake their hands and smile and bid them welcome to your excellent neighborhood.
But what if they’re awful people like Zeke and his howler monkey? Explain there are four drug dens and six whorehouses in the neighborhood, that drive-by shootings are routine, and that Walter White is even now tunneling under the school to build a super-lab.
Oh, and that zombies roam the streets. Might want to arm the kids with crossbows. Don’t forget to warn them about the coal trucks roaring back and forth between the strip-mine and the power plant, either.
And the SWAT raids at 3:30 AM? They truly suck.
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- I seem to have departed from writing about FIRE this week, but OK. Consider this comic relief from my last article.
- First time I’d ever heard kudzu called “ornamental.”
- ”No, ma’am…it’s next door at the house with the big ESTATE SALE sign in the yard.”
- At no cost since no payout had occurred.