November 27, 2010 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
There’s an old saying: You can’t pick your family or your neighbors.
Most of us have a family member who is a bit strange and perhaps neighbors who once in a while are a bother, with barking dogs, loud parties or their trash bins placed in the street in front of your house.
“What?” you might be thinking. “Trash bins get put all over the place in the street – that’s no big deal.”
It isn’t for normal people. But when a neighbor is obsessed with where you put your trash bin, it can become serious, as the following actual letter from an attorney to a property manager makes clear. The names have been changed.
Dear Ms. Hampton:
I need your help in preventing what could become a significant breach of the peace and am referring to our client, Madison, and her next door neighbor, your tenant, Tyler.
As you know from phone calls and e-mails you have received from our client and her husband, these families aren’t neighborly, and the problem is all about something incredibly petty and juvenile: It’s about trash bins.
Tyler puts his on the street, in front of Madison’s lawn, which is adjacent to his driveway. But he is not violating any law, and I have explained that to my client.
She has developed an obsession over this. If Tyler’s bin is not promptly removed after collection, she puts it in the middle of his driveway. He retaliates by parking in front of her house. Without repeating all of the other details of their relationship, I want to zero in on a recent event which causes great concern.
On Friday, October 15, 2010, Tyler phoned and stated that our client, that very morning, “had come into his open garage and was pounding on the door leading to the house, screaming for someone to come out and talk to her about the trash bin situation.”
His girlfriend was home and was terrified. He also advised that Madison repeatedly places his trash bin in the middle of his driveway, requiring him to get out of his car, move it, and then park the car. “I don’t care if she moves it, but why not just leave it in the street. I have difficulties in getting in and out of my car, so this is really an annoyance,” he added.
While I asked him to please be a considerate neighbor and not go out of his way to enrage a woman who is clearly not acting normally – just place his trash bin in front of his own house – he maintains that it can be placed anywhere in the street and he intends ro do just that. He is technically correct, but at what cost, I must ask.
“Your client is acting like a dictator in the neighborhood, and needs to get the idea that she can’t keep bossing people around,” he stated.
“Even if we can legally do something, it doesn’t mean that we should,” I replied. “You have to be aware your continued juvenile behavior will aggravate her further, and it has now become dangerous. Why put your girlfriend’s safety at risk?”
It seems as though he finds this situation to be amusing and left the impression that he enjoys annoying his neighbor and her husband.
This office will not make excuses for a client’s inappropriate behavior. We told Madison that she had no business going into the neighbor’s garage, pounding on the door, in an attempt to speak to an occupant. We explained that she was trespassing, exposing herself to physical harm and likely arrest if law enforcement were called.
I do not understand why she is obsessed with the trash bin issue and have suggested that she seek mental health counseling. It is obvious that her obsessive behavior is now clearly dangerous, and we hope that her husband will help his wife.
I urge you to instruct Tyler to keep the trash can on his side of the property and to refrain from escalating the situation.
When your client is the problem
It usually takes some time before an attorney realizes it’s the client who is primarily at fault, or who is reacting to a situation in an inappropriate manner. Once that’s discovered, the question becomes: “What should I do now?”
In Madison’s case, the attorney discussed the facts with a clinical psychologist and a legal ethics expert, asking, “What do you suggest?”
Their answer was to mail a letter to both Madison and her husband, but to him, it was also sent via an e-mail attachment, “just to be sure that he actually has a chance to read it, before it is torn into lots of little pieces,” the psychologist advised.
That letter is in next week’s column.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.