Problems with neighbors - should we respond to letter?

6 years ago

We bought an empty lot last summer and are now building on it. It's a 100' lot on a sandy beach along Lake Michigan. Our neighbors to our south were VERY upset that nearly all the trees on our lot were cleared (by necessity) when our basement was dug, including many blue spruces they planted twenty years ago. Yes, these were trees they planted not on their lot but on our lot, and they were livid that we had the audacity to remove them. We were baffled but whatever. We moved on.

There is no HOA, nor are there ordinances about tree removal.

We received a nasty letter today from the neighbor, claiming that by removing those trees, we've caused enormous problems for them this winter due to heavy, unprecedented snow drifting they haven't experienced since moving there 42 years ago. They also say our house construction has devalued their home. The woman (whose husband is quite ill with cancer which we feel terrible about) demands that my husband comes up with a solution to their problems since he is ... an engineer. (?????)

The question is: do we even bother responding? Say something I hadn't considered? Just ignore? Bake them a cake?

We have always becomes great friends with our neighbors, and this makes me so sad.


Hi xxx. We received your letter today. It is certainly unfortunate that our entire region is receiving more snow and drifting than we've had for nearly 40 years. I'm sure you realize the unusually high volume of snow and drifting is definitely not unique to xxx Drive nor to your house. We do appreciate that the snow removal is frustrating for you to tackle, especially with xxx being so sick.

xxx, we understand you are angry with us. We and our contractors have endured yelling, swearing, rude hand gestures, being called "the xxxx" and so on since our house construction began. However, we've done nothing wrong. We have simply built a house within our legal parameters. We disagree 100% that we are to blame for the various negative things you suggest.

As an engineer, xxx has no special knowledge of how to curb snow accumulation. If you feel that trees would protect your home better, we can only recommend that you plant as many trees as you'd like on your lot once the weather warms up. It's rather unfortunate that when xxx planted all those blue spruces 20 years ago, he didn't plant them on your lot but instead on the empty lot next to you that we eventually bought. If you like blue spruces, by all means, you should plant blue spruces on your own property. We personally are not fans of pine trees in that environment, so we won't be planting anything in the coniferous family.

We will continue to root for xxx to make a complete recovery. And we will continue to hope that somehow we can reconcile and be on friendly terms with our new neighbors, just as we have always been with all our neighbors.

All our best,
xxx and xxx

Comments (78)

  • redheadeddaughter

    They are off their rocker imo. It's amazing what people think they are entitled to these days. ;) And plenty of mean people get sick. That said. I personally believe that cake (or any baked goods for that matter!) can have an incredible softening effect on people. It's hard to dislike (or holler at) someone who has made you something special. I've witnessed it dozens of times, and each time I'm somewhat shocked! So even if you don't respond at all or discuss it with them in person... a cake is a great idea! I think it's really cool you thought of it, in the middle of all this. Good luck!

  • motherof3sons

    Another no response vote. If they moved to the property 42 years ago, they knew exactly what lake effect snow would do to their property. Trees planted in 1972 would not provide effective snow screening for several years. There were major storms from 1974 through 1979. They planted the trees on property they did not own. They did not want to put in the work required for maintenance such as mowing around them or pruning if they were on their property.

    When someone lives in a neighborhood with common areas or next to an empty lot for years, oftentimes they assume ownership - in their minds. Legal permanent ownership is not theirs, but they feel as though they have a right to the property. It is a centuries old problem.

    I hope you are able to have some form of a neighborly relationship with them. Best of luck.

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  • zone4newby

    I would consider talking to a lawyer before responding, not so much about legal issues (although he could help with that), but because lawyers deal with upset people all the time, and a lawyer could advise about what approach is likely to lead to a peaceful resolution.

    My instinct is to not engage. They're upset, and any response from you is likely to go over badly, given their circumstances and the fact that their neighborhood is changing. Also, given that you can't do what they want, any response is likely to upset them again, and they don't need that.

    Once construction is done and you are in the house, you can work on repairing the relationship, but as others have said, they may not be there very long anyhow.

  • Naf_Naf

    Ignore the letter.
    Send a get better card if you feel like it.

  • ellenandco

    Welcome to the last two months of my life! Previously friendly neighbors (we rent down the street from our lot) declared full out war on our home as soon as the dirt work started. Be glad the letter was only sent to you, not also to the city building and permits office and the developer and the county tax office, and anyone else our neighbors could think of. They've been the only house on the waterfront end of our neighborhood for 10 years. Our only response has ever been "We're happy to show you our plot plan and house plans to alleviate your concerns." It got worse and worse and worse. It really makes me so sad and disappointed. I'm sure this isn't the end of our trouble with them, but at least they seem to have stopped groundlessly demanding we and/or the city and/or county stop construction.

    I googled "can my neighbor stop my home construction" and found lots of information, as well as consulting with my attorney brother and our architect and our builder. Bottom line is, no matter what this couple felt, everything we did was legal and appropriate and approved and they have no ground to stand on. I wish you the best!

  • bpath reads banned books too

    Well, I'm going to talk from the other side and suggest you reconsider the cake. When we were in your neighbor's situation, in the middle of it all, we had an issue at home and the neighbors offered to bring dinner. I didn't know about it, and DH was still livid so he simply never responded. I found the letter much later, and it was charmingly written. To tell you the truth, the meal (and she's a good cook) would have tasted like chalk because we already had such a bad taste in our mouths.

    There's not much special you can do, just be yourselves, and I can tell you are very nice! And if the neighbors ever do approach you in friendship, let them. My neighbor never accepted my apology for some choice words I uttered and for my attitude. How are things now? We moved!

  • saftgeek


    Life is short. Way too short to spend time and energy trying to convince narrow-minded individuals to come to their senses. No matter what you try, most likely you will upset them. Letters and emails can easily be misinterpreted and seldom does the recipient fully understand the intent. People get hung up on parts of sentences and punctuation. It gets pretty ridiculous.

    I've dealt with my fair share of nut jobs. I am currently dealing with one while waiting for my new home to be completed. After having our yard fence on what we were told was the lot line we have been informed by the new owner of the vacant property behind us that we must immediately move one corner approximately 5'. I met with him and there was no way he was even going to listen to what I was saying. After all was done I just told him to go pound sand. I figure if he wants that 5' it will cost him. My fence has been up for over 10 years and I'll just be difficult right back. Of course I am planning to remove the fence before I close, but I'm not telling him that. I'm enjoying the notion that he is spending way more time than me worrying about it.

    Just move on. They'll either come around or they won't. Don't let it deter you from the joys of building a new home. Nothing pleases a joy-sucker more than folks walking headfirst into their trap.

    Good luck...


  • Jules

    I decided to take them a cake and a card tomorrow. If they throw them in the trash, at least we tried to extend an olive branch.

    Tucked inside the envelope, I'm going include a short, handwritten note saying if they need help erecting a snow fence yet this winter to let us know and also restate -- as we said in September -- that we'd be happy to work with them once we move in on planting some vegetation along the property line. (Just no dreaded pines on my beach, thank you very much!)

  • Annie Deighnaugh

    Best of luck, juju...That's a lot more than I would ever offer...I'd be afraid that that could be taken as a sign of accepting responsibility for their issue, like admitting guilt when you have done no wrong. At most I would offer to take their concerns into consideration when you are ready to landscape your grounds...that way you are not promising anything...only that you will consider it.

    There is just no pleasing some people. We went to the u pick it farm and hand picked a whole slew of strawberries... more than we could eat, so we gave a bunch to the neighbor lady... Nora as I recall. She had the nerve to come over and tell us that she had to throw them all out as they all had worms! We said we ate ours just fine and found no worms and in fact had never heard of worms in strawberries. The implication of course was that we kept the non-wormy ones for ourselves and gave her the bad ones. Like why would we even bother. (Best I can figure Nora couldn't tell the difference between worms and strawberry seeds.) My parents took it in stride, bless their hearts, as that was Nora. Of course, for all we knew, Nora ate them and was hoping we'd give her more.

    Some people are purposely impossible to please as that keeps others continually trying to do so. My GFs mother always used that manipulation on her.

    But I diverge...sorry.

  • Jules

    I understand, and they too may be impossible to please. But we already offered a few months ago to work with them on planting some sort of vegetation, and we'd like to do this anyway. So we're only restating our willingness to do so. We may run into difficulties if/when they expect a row of pine trees and we desire something else, but we are not legally culpable to plant anything.

    I am going to choose to ignore her suggestion that we have CAUSED the snow and drifts in front of their house because it's simply not true. And I'm going to choose to ignore their up-until-now rude behavior.

    I heard from a mutual friend that the man just got home from a month-long hospital stay where he received a bone marrow transplant. So, as we have thought and many here have suggested, the woman is probably just lashing out in many respects. Our mutual friend and others have said they are normally very nice and easy going people, so we shall see.

  • Jules

    I'm going to run this past our attorney and the building inspector just to be doubly sure.

  • tibbrix

    Why not send some chicken soup or something over to them with just a "Hope you are feeling well soon. Please let us know if there is anything we can help with" note? If they respond kindly at all, invite the wife over for a cup of tea to give her a respite from the stress of care taking, but I think if you do, it's okay to tell her that you would like to get to know her better and not discuss the tree/property issues.

  • tibbrix

    Oops, sorry. I read your comment about bringing them a cake after I posted the chicken soup suggestion.

  • lavender_lass

    I wouldn't! He may be limited on what he can eat (after hospital stay) and you do not need a health complication on top of the other problems! People have so many allergies these days....not to mention interactions with medications! I know, my husband just had a long hospital stay.

    I'd play it safe and just be nice. I'd avoid them for now and be pleasant if you see them this spring. Maybe start by planting a hedge or something...?

  • _henry Henry

    Perhaps your neighbors think the trees you removed were on their property. That would explain their letter to you. It is hard to imagine someone complaining that you removed your own trees. My first response to receiving their letter would be to double check I had not gone over the property line.

    Is the property line clearly defined by pins or markers? Did you have it surveyed before you bought it? Builders in our area often have no clear idea of where the line is and accidentally clear trees beyond it.

  • autumn.4

    jujubean-I hope whatever you decided to make/bake is seen as the kind gesture it's meant to be and does soften the tension that they are feeling. Be sure to come back and share how it is received. Hoping well and you can move on from this.

  • Jules

    No, there was absolutely no misunderstanding about the property line. We had it surveyed, staked and completely lined with bright pink survey ribbon.

    I agree with you ... hard to imagine.

  • Jules

    Thanks, Autumn. I will.

    Our attorney gave me the thumb's up on trying the nice, bring them a treat approach.

  • MFatt16

    I had a woman in tears begging me not to remove rotten trees that were inside the footprint of my house. Then the neighbors asked if they could still use the walking path they had put down in pavers in the rear of our wooded property. I think they thought our lot would remain "community" property but they'll adjust. Ignore the ridiculous stuff and take the high road. Be good neighbors and over time you will patch things up. Your crews can take a little abuse too, they generally aren't delicate types.

  • invisible_hand

    No doubt you should follow your own better instincts, and many of the great suggestions above.

    While reading the saga, I, on the other hand, couldn't help but think that an alternate response would be to forward the bill for removing the trees your neighbor planted on your property to your neighbor.

    This approach would likely reduce the chance of repairing the relationship...

  • Jules

    Hahahaha. We'll hold on to your idea as a back up option! ;-)

  • cz_scrap

    We too have neighbors that don't want us building. In this county, neighbors within so many feet have a chance to request a hearing with the county board to list any concerns about our building. Two of our neighbors sent in requests with their concerns but never showed up for the hearing. The board approved our building and listed how we were building within the requirements(and there were a lot of requirements). One of them has built a beautiful bench on our property-which will have to go-not looking forward to that-especially since my husband is ticked and just wants to rip it up. Its hard fro me as we have wonderful neighbors here and the idea of moving across country to a place where we aren't wanted is not easy. One of the things I keep telling myself is that its not us personally that they don't want, they just don't want anyone building on that lot.(Other neighbors have used it as a dog park-they've been fairly friendly to us while we were there). Good luck and keep us posted on how things progress.

  • Annie Deighnaugh

    I guess we were fortunate as our old house was vacant for years before we started building and neighbors used our yard like a park...they fished, walked their dogs, took photos, hunted, etc. I was afraid it might be an issue, but as we got closer to moving in, they respected our property and we had no problems.

  • Annie Deighnaugh

    As an aside, there is such a thing as "adverse possession" where you can actually lose your land to a neighbor if they have uninterrupted use and control of a portion of your property for a certain period of time.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Adverse possession

  • pnbrown

    I have neighbors who also could not believe I was removing their privacy screen which was on my property. Then they tried to take over the area and would not back off until I posted no-tresspassing signs and told them I would serve a warrant on them. So then they hired someone to plant bamboo in the few feet of grey area that I left on their side of the fence (but was in fact still mine) which has now over-run a third of my property. They hired someone to barricade their side, of course. So now they have their privacy screen back, on my property. The whole process was so onerous that I'm content just to not be able to see their backyard anymore (or them).

    The only way to deal with them now is zero contact. Yes, some people are very irrational. There is nothing rational people can do to change that.

  • maggiemuffin360

    I agree with those who said to ignore them. Based on their behavior so far, you are in a no-win situation; nothing you do will make them happy. I would be very cautious about any action, intended or not, that would indicate an acceptance of blame on your part for the situation.

  • patriceny

    Invisible Hand - you made me actually laugh out loud. I love someone with a sense of humor! :)

    Jujubean - you sound like you have a good head on your shoulders. The cool thing about posting here is if you get 17 replies, chances are you'll get 17 totally different ideas to choose from.

    Good luck, and I'd love to hear how it turns out.

  • Jules

    patriceny, that is true about receiving many different opinions and ideas, and I am thankful for each of them. The responses have helped me sort out my thoughts and my desired reaction.

    I will try the "heaping burning coals" approach knowing it may do no good ... yet hoping that it might.

  • bpath reads banned books too

    I don't know if you know these neighbors other than in this vein, but perhaps they are actually pretty nice and just mourning the loss of trees and good health and life as they knew it. When all is done, or at least the house, they may turn out to be, if not good friends, good neighbors.

  • Jules

    bp, that's the assumption I'm choosing to go with.

    I feel terrible that during their difficult time, they're bombarded with noisy contractors and equipment.

  • duvetcover

    He's recovering from a bone marrow transplant? I would suggest you not bring food over. He has to be in essentially a 'sterile' environment with little to no contact
    with others and there are all sorts of restrictions in re
    to what he can or cannot eat. Also, no flowers (if you were even thinking along those lines). This must be an incredibly stressful time for them, and I would not judge them by what they say or do right now - (hard as that might be) - their life is in utter turmoil and will be for some time until they know whether the transplant is successful or not. Perhaps an offer to bring something over would be appropriate, but I would not arrive with food without clearing it with them first. Or, arrive at their door without
    making sure they can have visitors - he is at very high risk and any contact with someone who even has a slight cold could be deadly.

  • sandy808

    From past experience I will offer you my opinion on this situation. I would ignore the letter. No matter how kind and nice you are, people like that have a tendency to twist things and one response leads to another. I feel at this point it's a no win situation. I would not take a cake over at this point either. Despite your kindness it could still turn into an ugly situation and only add to your stress. If they come over and say hello, I would say hello back, but I would not get into any discussions with them about the trees. You basically want the situation to defuse itself. In time you may end up being best friends, but likely it'll be a situation where you tolerate one another.

    If you have an attorney who has been retained by you during your property purchase, I would ask his or her advice, and if they see fit to a response it should come from your attorney. Most likely an attorney wouldn't respond at all at this point. There really isn't anything your neighbor can do to you...at least not legally.

    We once built a home where our neighbor came over and said his wife resented our building a house on our lot. She had gotten used to it as being "hers". My response was they should have purchased our lot if they didn't want a neighbor building there. He left and that was that. As time went on we had many back yard chats.

    We found we did not like living in a sub division with an HOA and have now moved and built a home in farm country. We are now acres away from neighbors, but we like living like that. Our neighbors are really nice people and we all mind our own business.

  • LOTO

    We built our home last year on the center of 30 wooded acres and our nearest neighbor is about 1000' away and our property line runs about 50' away from the neighbors home.
    My sons 19 and 17 years old were riding our 4 wheelers on our property (we had it surveyed/flagged) last year and then came in to eat. I hear a knock on the door and answer it and the husband/neighbors is standing there and says "I need to talk to you"...I say go ahead and talk and he says "in private"
    We go outside and he says that he and his wife like to go out naked in the hot tub every evening and they were out in the tub naked and the wife was afraid that the boys saw her and she doesn't want to go naked anymore.

    It was hard to keep from laughing but he did acknowledge that my sons were on our property and he was actually pretty decent about the whole deal. I told him that I would mention to my sons not to ride near their property but I couldn't guarantee that they wouldn't. He apologized several times for any inconvenience but said he just really enjoys the hot tub time....TMI :)

    Once I told my sons that they might see a 75 year old naked couple if they rode over there they now avoid that area like it is a toxic dump.

    When we speak of our neighbors we refer to them as The Naked Neighbors.

  • illinigirl

    haha LOTO that story really had me laughing out very loudly.

    good one.

    I think I would also vote ignore it all for now, you have enough on your hands and that despite any good intentions you have to smooth things over it probably won't do any good at this point.

  • lavender_lass

    If you respond...she knows you received the letter. If you never mention it, she might wonder. If things calm down (with her husband's illness) and she wants to try to make friends later....knowing you saw that letter will make it more difficult.

    She's having a really BAD time...I know. She isn't handling it very well (unfortunately) but she might be a very nice person, normally. Let her have the opportunity to live this down. Don't say or do anything and if she ever brings it up, I'd say....oh, did you send a letter? We must have missed it. We were so busy with the build.....

  • Jules

    I conferred with a mutual friend who's quite close with the lady and speaks to her frequently. The friend thought my idea would be a nice gesture. So this afternoon, I dropped off a basket of fruit, muffins, trail mix and a card with a short, handwritten note tucked inside. I placed the package on their doorstep, knocked on the door and left so they wouldn't be "bothered" by me.

    So it's a done deal. Hopefully they received the gift in the spirit it was intended and it helped to soften relations. If not, that's just the way it goes sometimes. At least we tried. And I really just felt led to try.

    Thanks for your feedback, everyone.

  • Jules

    LOTO, that is a great story!

  • renovator8

    I have been alive long enough to know that only Time can heal the damage in such a situation for you and for them. So let time pass.

    Do whatever you need to do to put this out of your mind but do not compromise yourself by getting mired in the issues; they are of no real or lasting importance.

    As people get older they overreact to perceived slights. I saw it in my parents and I begin to see it in myself.

    Patience is difficult for the young. Wait this out and they will either become your friends or move away. It will eventually be just fine. Only the love of your family is essential for a good life so don't worry about the rest.

    Relax and enjoy your house and keep us posted about your progress.

  • Jules

    Thanks, Renovator. I truly am focused on our house and not on this matter ... except for this thread. I'm busy selecting plumbing and light fixtures.

    I spent some time at our house today with blizzard conditions outside (what's new?) and was happy to see crews plugging away inside on insulation and a few other things. Our new home is is going to be awesome and the beach and sunsets will be amazing! We're really pleased with the way things are shaping up.

    Here's a photo from a couple weeks ago of our great room. You can hopefully see the fireplace chase going up the center which will be covered in wide horizontal shiplap. Our MBR, closet and bath is behind that.

  • autumn.4

    loto-I cannot imagine what it took for that man to come over and disclose that! Haha, that is hilarious...and I can see how your boys would naturally avoid that side of the perimeter! In our old home I had a 'Sam blind' installed. Our neighbor Sam thought nothing of knocking and if we didn't come to the door right away he'd go to the window and look in and if still nothing he may just walk around the back of our house and look in those windows. Ummmm, is there NO privacy in this world?

    juju-house looks great!

  • Annie Deighnaugh

    Haha loto! I had to do something similar...mention to our neighbors that we have an outdoor shower that we use in the summer, so if they wander over in our back yard, they might see more "wildlife" than they care to!

  • Lori Wagerman_Walker

    LOL I love it LOTO, and Annie.

    I agree with Renovator.

    Love the house Juju :)

  • patriceny

    LOTO - your story is awesome. :)

    Jujubean, I think you did a nice thing. I hope it works - and like you said, if not.....you know you tried.

  • Jules

    I received a nice email from the woman today thanking us for the basket and offers of assistance, kindly restating her frustration over the snow accumulation in front of her entry door due to the trees being gone (I'm smiling ... ), and even wishing us well with our construction projet.

    That was a welcome email indeed.

    To give you a visual, this is how our 120+ inches of snow to date is being "shoveled" this year from entryways:

  • bpath reads banned books too

    Jujubean, that is good news. The email, not the snow! Sounds like she is as the neighbors describe. I'm sending you a warm wave from the opposite shore over here!

    I've been watching the optimistic Facebook posts from Race to Mackinac, will you be able to see them from your beach, if the lake ever thaws, that is?

  • Annie Deighnaugh

    10' of snow is enough to make anyone cranky! So glad your gesture of kindness was well received!

  • Jules

    bp, that's a good question, and while the official route passes right in front of us, I'm not yet sure of the answer from our beach. We've seen them from taller vantage points (steep sand dune cliffs to the south, Sleeping Bear Dunes to the north), but I think it'll depend on winds and how far offshore they need to race at that particular time. I know they've sought refuge in our harbor when hit by bad weather, and several boats stop here on their more leisurely return to Chicago.

    I'll try to take some photos this year.

  • maggiemuffin360

    Well, Jujubean, I was one of those that suggested you ignore the letter; instead you went ahead with what you felt was right & it sounds like that turned out to be the best decision. Well done - it sounds like they will turn out to be great neighbours for the long term.

  • mlweaving_Marji

    Re the Mac Race. I sailed that race every year until 2003. There were years when we were less than 2 miles offshore off Ludington. And years when it was more advantageous to sail the rhumb line up to the Manitous. But generally we passed Ludington in the dark.
    I'm happy to hear that you got a nice email from your neighbor. It's a rough place they're in.
    Love the picture of that great dramatic space.

  • Jules

    That's so cool, ml. I'm sure you have a long list of fantastic stories and memories from the race. What fun ... combined with a lot of work I would think.

    My husband just earned ASA 101-104 certification in the BVI a couple weeks ago, so we're looking forward to a little sailing this summer and in the BVI next winter with friends who also took the course. We're only experienced in power boating, so this will be a new adventure for us. He's interested in a Hobie Wave or a similar small cat so we can practice right from the beach.

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