A Brief Introduction To Settling Homeowner Disputes

By: Tim Cushing

While it is the American dream to own your own home and burn it later for the hefty insurance payout, home ownership can be a perilous journey down a path filled with faulty city water lines, inept, expensive contractors and litigious neighbors.

The most common annoyance will be the “homeowners’ dispute.” Usually the result of familiarity breeding contempt or contemptuously breeding (this includes cats), what could have been solved with a simple apology or fruit basket has now become a matter for the Homeowners’ Association, whose power far exceeds the limits of the judicial system.

These disputes can happen at any time for nearly any reason: erecting a privacy fence, harvesting from the “communal” garden or following your weeklong bender during which you mistook the neighbor’s living room for your garage.

Most of these expensive disputes can be defused or avoided completely through a combination of “worst case scenario” preparation and lying. Let’s take a look at some common homeowner disputes.

Property Lines
This dispute will normally rear its ugly head once your fence construction is nearing completion or when a tree falls onto your neighbor’s addition. As these situations become more and more common, some clear delineation of your property lines is needed, meaning phrases like “a little past the mailbox,” “as the crow flies…” or “just before the leaking water lines…” are no longer acceptable.

As a property line dispute is the most common homeowner issue, multiple solutions to this problem have surfaced over the years. Rather than battling it out in court or dragging those assholes from the Homeowner’s Association into this, consider these options for dispute resolution:

— Slap fight
— Race around the world
— Pistols at dawn
— Jarts
— Flamewar
— Thunderdome
— Trivial Pursuit: ’80s Edition
— Facebook Friend-Off
— Agreeing to disagree
— Compromise

(Note: These last two are not recommended.)

Grass Color/Length
To those of us who reside nowhere near gated communities or golf courses, this would seem to be a non-issue. We would let nature take its course color-wise and mow the lawn down to an eighth of an inch every three months or so.

However, this matter is taken quite seriously by the Homeowners’ Association, whose keen eyesight and finely tuned calipers will be all over your property the moment the grass does indeed become greener on the other side of the fence.

Your neighbors, whom you previously trusted and shared mid-priced domestic bottled beer with, may turn on you if they feel your pear-colored lawn is somehow bringing their property values down. In a very short time, you will be apprised of the situation, usually through a variety of passive-aggressive letters and conversations.

There is really only one way out of this dispute: spend every weekend and evening hour in a highly visible place gazing over your lawn while comparing fertilizers, herbicides and minor lawn deities. This means that you will have to have a variety of lawn additives on hand at all times and be ready to quote Gaian prayers at the drop of a hat. Failure to do so will most likely result in a costly arbitration and passive-aggressive bomb threats.

Resolution Role-Play
There’s no better way to prepare for some hot homeowner-on-homeowner action than to “put the shoe on the other foot,” so to speak. With some healthy role-playing, you should be able to talk yourself out of any situation, including uncomfortable discussions about your inability to dress yourself properly.

Here are a variety of common disputes. Please choose the best resolution.

1. The city calls to inform you that you will be held responsible for the power lines chewed up by your tiller. Your response?

— “Well, send someone down to help me transplant the bodies.”
— “No habla engles.”
— “Tell your crew to stop vandalizing my yard. There’s frickin’ orange spray paint everywhere.”
— “I really think the responsibility lies with the Troy-Bilt Corporation’s incredibly powerful and smooth handling rototiller.”
— “Hold on a second, I have a call from the water company on line 2.”

2. The Homeowners’ Association has informed you that your choice of mailbox is not acceptable. Your response?

— “Have I shown you my extensive handgun collection?”
— “No habla engles.”
— “Why? Because the flag is shaped like a penis?”
— “I need someplace to test out my pipe bombs.”
— Sucker punch the representative and ask for a pro-rated refund of your dues.

3. During a fierce storm, a branch from your tree knocks out your neighbor’s windshield. Your response?

— “Well, that answers the whole “If a tree falls in Parkview Terrace, who starts whining immediately?” question.
— “Here’s a number for my insurance agent. Unfortunately, he doesn’t speak English.”
— “I would imagine this falls under ‘act of God.’ Like your slashed tires. Or your daughter’s pregnancy.”
— “Could I ask you to hold this pipe-ish, bomb-ish looking thingy for a minute while I run and get my checkbook? I’ll be back in 7-10 minutes.”
— Sucker punch him and ask for his insurance information.

4. An electrical fire discolors the outside of your neighbor’s newly painted house. He wants you to pay for repainting. Your response?

— “No, but I’m OK, thanks for asking.”
— “Are you familiar with the phrase ‘water, water everywhere/not doing a damned thing'”?
— “Perhaps my powerful urine will clean it off…although it really didn’t do much to the fire…”
— “Can you break a ten dollar bill?”
— “Remember that time when you asked if I’d seen anyone ‘strange’ lurking outside your daughter’s window? And I said I hadn’t seen anyone ‘unfamiliar’…”
— “Have I introduced you to my insurance agent? He’s not too good with the English but he throws a hell of a sucker punch.”

(Note: Role-playing is also a great way to keep your marriage fresh. Consider taking the role of “Disgruntled Neighbor #2” while your partner (or partners) acts out the part of “Inept Landscaper.” Sparks will fly!)

If these alternate resolutions fail, be prepared to end up in court. Unfortunately, the glamorous courtrooms you’ve often viewed on TV will remain a fantasy. Instead, you’ll be forced to lay your case out in front of a bored and biased arbitration “judge” whose bitterness towards his or her inability to secure a real judgeship (sans quotes) will be taken out on you.

As recent studies have shown, the defendant has only a 1-3% chance of leaving this hearing with a victory. However, there are a few steps you can take to “level the playing field:”

— Pray fervently.
— Skip town and continue life under an assumed name.
— Ask to be placed in protective custody.
— Sport an infectious and highly visible body rash.
— Shout “Objection!” every third word or so (even during your own testimony).

(Note: In these same studies, respondents referred to these suggestions as ranging from “completely useless” to “wholly ineffective.” Other comments included “It’s better than doing nothing, I guess,” and “Does anyone have some Cortaid?” Several respondents originally stated these suggestions “couldn’t hurt,” later amending their answer to “I was wrong. So very, very wrong.”)

If you arm yourself with information and approach this with strong resolve, you’ll be out in no time, reconsidering the pros and cons of renting.


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