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#315: The boundary-crossing neighbor

Hi, Captain Awkward,

My Beloved and I bought a house around three years ago, which shares a driveway with another neighbor (the property line literally goes right down the center of the drive).  We were very optimistic about this, initially, as she seemed a very charming and outgoing lady.  For the most part, our relationship with her has been amicable.

This is our first stab at home ownership, we both work full time (opposite shifts from each other), and have three amazing spawn that we’re working at guiding into responsible human-ness.  We’re having a bit of a harder time than we anticipated with staying on top of all the home owner-ship demands in addition to parenting and working, but I don’t think we’re too horribly awful at it.

We came  home from a family vacation very recently to find our driveway blocked off because our neighbor had decided, unilaterally, that it was time to re-seal it.  In and of itself not a horrible thing, except that we arrived home at 4 am* and it is illegal for us to park on the street during the night.  We discovered later that day (after the sun rose) that she had also decided to take it upon herself to make changes to our lawn vegetation (not actually the first time- she also decided to cut back my rose bush one day about four weeks ago! **), rearrange some of our property on our lawn, etc. I was rather upset about this, feeling like my space was invaded without warning.

She wasn’t able to do the entire driveway, because amazingly enough since we didn’t know she was going to do this, we hadn’t moved our vehicles out of the way (for comfort sake we rented a van for our trip).  After we moved the vehicles, and I started cleaning the part of the driveway that had been blocked by them she came out and revealed that she expected us to finish the work she had started.  And today I received a bill (in the mail- with a stamp! and she lives right next door!) from her for “our half” of the cost, including the cost of two helpers (her grandsons) that she paid.  She mentioned in the note she sent that she wasn’t billing us for *her* labor…

My Beloved and I did indeed finish the work, and we will in fact pay for our half since it is shared property.  I don’t begrudge that (well, not much anyway).  What I’m wondering is if it would be out of line to include a note with the payment, along the lines of “In the future, we would appreciate it if when you believe it is time for maintenance/improvement to be done to our mutual property that you would run it past us first.  Had we known that you were planning this, we could have  planned for the time expenditure and budgeted for the monetary expense.  We also could have made sure that our part of the property was prepared in advance so you wouldn’t have felt a need to trespass in our yard and rearrange things to suit yourself.”

I’m really very angry, and feel that she crossed some very clear and literal boundaries, and I want to make sure I’m “using my words” in a way that is appropriate, and I want to make sure that I’m not over-reacting.  My Beloved is very laid back and just shrugged when I said that I’m upset about this, so maybe I am over-reacting?  It doesn’t help that I suffer from a chronic pain/fatigue disorder and putting in several hours of rather intensive driveway work has left me in a great deal of pain resulting in insomnia and muscle spasms for quite a few days now, and I know that when I am in pain and sleep deprived my temper and judgement is somewhat less reliable. I also have a very hard time with confrontation outside of my immediate family, so I almost want to just let this go and just pay her the  requested amount without any further comment. Except I’m afraid it’ll be like if I let one of my spawn get away with something, and they’d just do it again and again and again… I can’t live with having my space invaded like this, I just can’t!

So, what do you think, Captain?  Should I just let it go, should I send the note? If the note, is the way I worded it ok, or can you recommend  a better tack to take?

Thank you for any help you can give,

Feeling Run Over

* I don’t know if it’s worth mentioning, but we did tell her that we’d be gone for most of the week and what date we’d be returning, so she knew that we’d be back that morning.

**I never told her how upset I was about this, and now I rather regret that.

Dear Run Over:

Wow.

Your neighbor is really out of line. You’re not overreacting.

Edited to Add: You don’t have to pay her anything. It might send a strong message if you do not, and then request notice and the chance to negotiate budget, etc. in advance. Thanks commenters! </Edit>

Your letter is perfect and will get the job done, so you don’t really need me. But I want to suggest a script for you if you wanted to have a face-to-face conversation. I suggest you or your husband (or both of you together) walk the check over to her and handle this in person.

And I suggest that you rehearse before you go. Because this is not about payment or “in the future, blah blah blah.” It is about those things PLUS “Whoa you are out of order, lady.’  Sometimes people need to be Told. Keep a pleasant-but-firm “I know you’ll do the right thing because you are reasonable!” tone throughout.

Ok, here is the script:

“Hello neighbor: We brought the money for the driveway over in person because we’d like to talk to you about how that all went down.

We’re glad the driveway got resealed before winter. But we’re really not happy that you chose to do it without consulting us first. For instance, if you’d talked to us, we would have moved things out of the way and the whole job could have been done at once. Also, we would have preferred to budget for the job and agreed on a price in advance instead of receiving a surprise bill in the mail. The way you handled things put us through considerable inconvenience and we’re not happy.”

Pause and let her talk. Hopefully you’ll hear some sort of apology. Probably you’ll hear a justification about why she’s right that doesn’t actually use the words “I’m sorry.”

Ok, we don’t have a time machine and what’s done is done. I just wanted to clear the air and make sure that we had clear boundaries moving forward. You have our phone number and email (hand over new copies of this information), so please do not hire any services that affect our joint property without consulting us and working out payment, timing, etc. in advance. And, by “in advance”, we mean about 1 month ahead of time for anything that isn’t an emergency, so we can be sure to budget. Edited to Add: Without that kind of notice, and without us actually agreeing to pay for part of the service, we can’t guarantee that we’ll pay anything at all.”

Let her talk. Hopefully she’ll agree to it. She may try to take you to FEELINGSTOWN and get all aggrieved and “I was JUST trying to HELP!” so that you’ll reassure her it was all okay. It was not okay, so just stay focused on what you want going forward.

I know you meant well, but we really don’t want this to happen this way again, so I wanted to talk to you directly and make a plan for what to do next time. Also, this is very awkward to bring up, but we’d also prefer it if you didn’t make any changes to anything in our yard – moving items around, trimming plants, etc. without talking to us first. You have our contact information, so if there’s something you need, just call or email first and wait for an answer.”

It’s going to be super-awkward, you guys, but there is power in letting things be uncomfortable sometimes. And power in treating people like you expect them to act right going forward. Afterwards, treat it like the matter is resolved and go back to being pleasant to her. She’ll avoid you for a while (I would, if I’d fucked up as badly and been called on the carpet for it) but things will thaw eventually.

Thanks for the annual “Good fences make good neighbors!” reminder!

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143 comments
  1. Lontra Canadensis said:

    I like the Captain’s script as , but I’d beef up so that its crystal-clear that you will not just be agreeing to whatever costs and schedule she comes up with.

    I’m concerned that this woman is so willfully clueless about this that your message isn’t going to sink in the first time, and so next time, Neighbor will give you an estimate, then merrily schedule the work to be done, because she gave you the month (or whatever time span you specified) that you wanted.

    • JenniferP said:

      Oh good point. For instance in the case of the driveway, the LW and family might have wanted to actually pay more to hire a pro to do the work instead of doing it themselves.

      I made a small edit to the script, what do you think?

      • Lontra Canadensis said:

        Looks good to me.

  2. Jess said:

    Hello LW – long-time reader, first-time commenter dropping in because your letter resonated with me. I had a flatmate like your neighbour, who would forever be “redecorating” or “reorganising” our flat. It culminated in a massive screaming match when events reached their logical conclusion and I realised he’d “rearranged” our flat into his flat, with none of my stuff in it. The only reason I still had any possessions at all is because I was in the habit of locking my bedroom door.

    The Captain is absolutely right – this woman has no sense of boundaries and needs to be shown quite firmly where they are. Like you said, she will act like a child who has been allowed to get away with something, and her boundary violations will escalate and escalate until one day you come home to find she’s painted your house blue and billed you for it.

    One argument you might hear from her is “Well [old houseowner] never minded that!” to which your answer should be something along the lines of “Well, that’s great, but I’m really not happy with you doing things like this without consulting us. Please let us know a month in advance in future.”

    Good luck with this, LW, and I hope you, your partner and your spawn are enjoying that new house!

    • sgoch said:

      Or the oldie but goodie, “Well, we’re NOT (old houseowner). . .”

      “. . .and we would like you to discuss changes that affect both our properties with us at least one month in advance, blahblah.”

    • Actually, I’d recommend saying, “I’m not (whoever ex-neighbor was.)” This person will have you apologizing to her in a heartbeat if you accept her framing. I’d also let her sweat. Pick your moment and after a question or a statement, just sit there and let the silence draw out. She’s used to manipulating people. That’ll knock the wind out of her sails. With somebody like this, just keep to a simple script: “We will not pay for anything to which we did not agree.” To all her ‘buts’—-of which there will be many, keep it simple, then let her gibber herself out.

  3. Elizabeth Powell said:

    This is trespass. I’m not suggesting they must sue the neighbor, but the neighbor has absolutely no right to come onto their property for any reason whatsoever! There is no reason to “work with” this neighbor. I’d recommend instead a letter that says if anything like this ever happens again, a lawsuit will be the result.

    • JenniferP said:

      Lawsuits are wicked expensive, though, and threatening to sue if you don’t really want to sue is a bad tactic. How long are they going to live in that house? Why not try to resolve it first?

      One argument for communicating the displeasure in writing, as in the LW’s own excellent text, is that the conversation is documented. So I forgot to say in the original response, after you have the conversation (which I still recommend doing in person), send a follow-up email.

      Thanks for talking with us yesterday. I know it was awkward, but I feel better knowing that everything will be clear going forward and that we will discuss any improvements at least 1 month in advance and agree to a budget and schedule before proceeding. Have a great weekend.

      Or somesuch.

      • Emma said:

        And even if you win the suit, a court order is not a magical force field that will prevent your neighbor from rearranging your stuff. If she did it again you would have to take her BACK to court, and you would be fighting for monetary compensation, or maaaaybe a restraining order? But a judge cannot actually compel someone to respect you.

        Lawsuits are a very blunt instrument, not a way of making people See the Light of Justice in Civil Society.

      • thegirlfrommarz said:

        In the UK, if you have been involved in a legal dispute with your neighbour you have to declare it when you come to sell the house (which leaves potential buyers wondering whether the neighbours are difficult and can affect how easy it is to sell). For me, at least, suing should be the last resort, not just because of potential problems if you want to sell, but mainly because you can’t avoid your neighbours and having a bad relationship with them can be really difficult.

        My bad-neighbour story has a happy ending: I had a run-in with my neighbours last year. They were planning to replace the garden fence (which they are legally responsible for), and I agreed that they could cut back the plants on my side to do it. They got carried away and hacked back my lovely honeysuckle to the ground, then left all the detritus from the job in my garden. I came home and was really shocked by the mess they’d left and the fact that one of my favourite plants had been pretty much destroyed. I spoke to them about it over the fence as we were both out in the garden later that day. My script was something like this:
        “Thanks for doing all the work to replace the fence – it looks great. However, we didn’t agree that you could cut back my honeysuckle as far as you did, and I was particularly shocked to find that you’d left all the cuttings and the old fence panels in my garden. I accept that’s what’s done is done and there’s nothing you can do about the honeysuckle now, but I would like you to take away the cuttings and fence panels, and in future ring me before you go beyond what we’d agreed would be done. Here is my phone number for future reference.”
        The husband got quite angry (I think he knew he was in the wrong and immediately got defensive) and I had to keep very calm and try to make sure I didn’t inflame the situation by getting angry myself. However, once he’d calmed down he agreed that he shouldn’t have left the cuttings and fence panels in my garden, cleared them all up (I helped, partly to show there were no hard feelings) and took them to the local tip. I then bought them an orchid to say thank you for replacing the fence, since I benefited from the new fence but didn’t have to pay for the work.

        I was really anxious about talking to them, but since then we’ve actually had a much better relationship than before and often chat when we’re in the garden! The honeysuckle hasn’t recovered yet, however… :)

  4. General Expression said:

    Wow, my blood pressure rose just reading this letter. LW, your neighbor was incredibly out of line and rude! Good luck laying down the law, and please let us know how it goes.

    • Mine too, good gravy! It came down after I started imagining what my mother would say to such a neighbor, as Mom’s picture is in the dictionary next to “HBIC.”

  5. When you get some time, you might look up the rules in your community that apply. I guarantee this has come up before. Once you know your rights, be prepared to assert them.

    For instance, I don’t think you should have had to pay her. Maybe you would legally have to, but maybe not. She doesn’t have the authority to approve work on your property. If you don’t have to pay, consider not paying, but having completed the job you might have made yourself liable.

    I think you check the law immediately, so that when you talk to her you can say up front that you will not be paying for any work you have not agreed to.

    I also think you should document the contents of your yard, right down to the vegetation. If it’s plausible for your yard setup, you might also build a fence.

    When in conflict with neighbors over property, always always always check the local laws and regulations. You don’t want to sue, but you don’t want to be sued either, and you don’t want to be out thousands of dollars and damage to your own physical condition.

    Finally, you are so reasonable to feel angry and threatened! Someone is crossing your boundaries and charging you money for it. She is touching your stuff. She is changing your things. She is all up in your grill (maybe even literally!) and it is simply. not. okay.

  6. Stray said:

    Ok, I’ll admit that I’m a bit quicker to “fight a good fight” when just moving on may be better in the long run, but were this to happen to me I don’t know that there would be adequate words to describe my indignation. This would absolutely be a “oh HALE no” kind of day.

    It really rustles my feathers when someone so blatantly takes advantage of another and just expects to get away with it. This is especially true when they are counting on you being the “decent,” or more accurately “passive” one.

    So if your goal is to move on and you don’t mind paying the money, and you are willing to hope for the neighbor to act better in the future, then cool- good on you. But personally, if I were weighing “possible less confrontation with neighbor and moving on” vs “money, liability, possibility of this happening again, and territory invasion” then this is a fight worth fighting.

    Reading your letter, I see this as a legal issue, and if only because of that I would be hesitant to do that much in person. I’m a huge fan of documenting everything, especially when land and money is involved, and that’s hard to do with in-person conversations. I’d keep records of absolutely everything, especially her notes and any invoices you get.

    First- are there any agreements in place, either in your home contact, county, or HOA about shared property? I would think there would be rules on this. I’d find out what those are.

    You have three very, very serious issues here, besides the fact that you may have to interact with this woman sometimes and would like it to not suck.

    So she’s been on your property, messing with your stuff. This is absolutely inexcusable, and could possibly set you up for a legal liability if she hurts herself on your property! If someone had the gall to actually come on to my property, unasked, and move (and even damage, considering the plants) things that were mine, that would be an invasion of my “safe space” and would be worth addressing in itself.

    On to the driveway. If someone did a “favor” for me, or on my behalf, without giving me any say in the matter, then there is no way I would pay. The fact that she inconvenienced you outright may seem like it’s not a huge deal, but she basically denied you access to your property- this may very well be illegal.

    Her doing the driveway without consulting you and then demanding payment is probably the textbook definition of “passive aggression.” Again, I’d be curious about your shared property rules, but look at it this way.

    Say there’s a band you like, and you mention it to a friend. They go out without asking you and buy super-expensive front-row tickets and then demand that you pay them for your ticket, and furthermore act as if they’re being magnanimous for not making you pay their Verizon bill for the internet they used.

    I know I for one would promptly tell that friend to enjoy their time at the concert, but it won’t be with me.

    This lady decided all on her lonesome to do the driveway, without giving you any notice or choice in the matter- and even inconvenienced and contributed to injuring you in the process.

    If she made the silly assumption that you’d pay her back for services you never signed up for or agreed to, then maybe she will consider that next time. She should think herself very lucky if you decide to contribute at all, and I’d really think hard about doing so, considering the precedent it creates in your relationship, and any possible legal issues.

    I don’t know much about driveways, but what if they did a terrible job and it needs to be redone? Are you going to have to pay that unexpected expense you didn’t sign up for?

    But yeah, you are SO, SO not over-reacting. This is boundary-violating and passive aggression to the highest degree when it comes to homeownership. If this were an equivalent dating situation, we’d probably all be telling you to run, run away, and not to feel like you owe this person a thing.

    • JenniferP said:

      I love this comment. I’m really coming down on the side of FUCK NO, DON’T PAY HER A CENT as I read these comments, which is why I love this community.

    • IrishUp said:

      Word to all of this!

      I’ll add, based on my experiences that you should check your title and deed very carefully to see exactly WHERE the shared property line(s) is (are). If you don’t have markers, it’s worth the money to hire a good surveyor and get them placed ASAP. This will also tell you what, if any, access/easements are granted to each property. The issue is that if she is encroaching on your property line and you don’t object to this, this can potentially set up adverse possession type issues. Things like paving both sides of the driveway, putting a structure of hers over onto your property line (sheds, rock wall or fencing, etc), using your side of the driveway on a consistent basis, can count as acts showing you’re relinquishing that property to her use, unless you go on record as objecting to them.

      Summary: know the applicable laws, know *exactly* where the property lines are, know *exactly* what if any deeded right-of-ways and/or easements may exist. Then keep her on HER side of those boundaries. For all you know, she already has a sense about these things and is encroaching on purpose.

      • Datdamwuf said:

        I have to agree that paying for this invasion is wrong. Number one she had family do the work, did they do it right? and you do you even know if the charges are appropriate? If you are going to pay her, get an estimate and make sure you aren’t being ripped off. Personally, I just can’t see myself paying a bill someone else decided to incur for me. I also agree that if you do this in person follow up with an email that details what was said. And, add to the one months notice that you will confirm or deny your agreement to any future shared expenses via email.

        I understand not wanting a feud with a neighbor but this is so over the top, I know I would have parked in the woman’s yard and been banging on her door at 4am. So yeah, I’m not that great at being neighborly maybe.

      • Nolo Press has a good section on neighbor law, which I found helpful for understanding my rights *and* responsibilities for our property boundaries. They have books and online articles that may give you the background you need to talk to your neighbor or to decide if you need to speak to a local lawyer.

        Nolo Press is located in Berkeley, CA. I am not sure how much of their information is California specific.

        • Elizabeth said:

          Nolo press is an excellent legal resource for laypeople, and they have books that are specific to the law in virtually every state.

    • Obsidian Entropy said:

      I agree times a million.

      If this happened to me, I would never, ever pay for it.

      I’d also probably ring her doorbell at 4am the night I came home and ask her to explain herself.

  7. Bev said:

    Okay, I for one would just pay rather than escalate this into war, although counter-billing her for your services would be amusing. On the other hand, if you did refuse to pay, the helpers were probably paid cash in hand, so legally she wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

    Paying this time actually gives you the upper hand, since you’re being more than reasonable and expecting her to be reasonable back. If she doesn’t comply, she’s the bitch. People forget the power of well-directed reasonableness.

    • hlwest said:

      I did spend a small amount of time calculating the cost of my time (both working, and recovering) and my Beloved’s time. :) It was very amusing.

    • Obsidian Entropy said:

      I’m not convinced it would work in this case. Paying her is positive reinforcement: it encourages the behavior.

  8. I’m coming down firmly on the side of DON’T PAY HER. She had no legal right to do anything to your half of the driveway, she certainly had no legal right to touch your plants. You get to be angry.

    • She had no legal right to do anything to your half of the driveway

      This is not necessarily the case, and before reaching a conclusion one way or the other, the LW needs the advice of an attorney.

  9. This neighbor is so far out of line in so many different ways, I am speechless. Don’t pay her a fucken penny right now for work that you neither asked for nor approved. Tell her that you will be analyzing the legal arrangements concerning the shared driveway, and that after you have done so you will discuss with her how you intend to handle the situation. Also tell her you expect her to stay off your property unless you give her permission to enter it, and that she does not currently have permission to enter. And then look very closely at the existing legal arrangements regarding the shared driveway, and get the advice of an attorney concerning the costs that were incurred.

    Importantly, I do not recommend just outright refusing to pay without getting the advice of an attorney. It is conceivable that–as fucked uppe as the neighbors actions were–from a legal standpoint the LW might be liable for a share of the expenses.

    • General Expression said:

      I like this, especially for the idea that even if you do plan to pay her, first send her a letter saying that you might not, you’ll have to consider the legal arrangements, etc. The warning that you might not pay might help prevent her over-stepping bounds in the future, regardless of what you decide to do in the end over this incident.

    • Emma said:

      I love this, and I love “analyzing the legal arrangements concerning the shared driveway.” I think actually suing her over this would be a disaster, but sometimes just reminding people that the law exists does wonders. I had a friend get her landlord to back off on a lot of bullshit charges he was trying to assess her just by asking him to itemize everything in writing so she could show it to a lawyer.

    • tinyorc said:

      Thirding this! I personally would err on the side of paying her, if it’s not going to actively put your family’s finances out of whack, because money stuff can create permanent rifts and you do have to live beside this woman. But definitely make it clear that you don’t actually owe her a cent. Let her know that you are only paying her because you have thought it over and you’ve generously decided to contribute because you are an extremely kind and reasonable neighbour.

    • kh said:

      Take it from a lawyer…there is not and could not be any obligation for them to pay for this work. It was not performed by professionals. There is no written documentation of what was done, what materials were used, what they cost, the fmv of the materials and labor, adherence to local construction regulations, etc etc. In most communities where two separate adjoined properties would share a driveway AND there would be any local laws or regulations about their care, there would be a requirement that the work be performed by a certified, licensed and insured professional.

      And you know what? If I’m wrong? Let that b*tch sue you for it. Won’t cost you anything more than the filing fee for your answer, and if by THAT point you think she’s in the right, you pay her and it’s over.

      But as a lawyer who loves when people pay me to tell them they’re fine…I’m urging you not to waste your money on a lawyer here, just to be told you’re fine.

  10. Nora said:

    I think if anything your letter is overly polite. I think you *need* to know when she is planning these things, rather than you would appreciate it. I would also indicate your need to *discuss* plans for future renovation/upkeep rather than have her run them buy you.

  11. case-in-point said:

    First off, let me be clear, I am not in any way shape or form advocating suing this lady. I think we live in a sue happy society and it’s stupid. On the other hand, it’s important to take some steps here to protect yourself.

    That said, this raises a lot of red flags and some possible liability issues. Especially if you are paying or expected to pay minors to work on your property. Oh hells to the no. If one of them is or was injured on your property, they can file on your homeowner’s insurance– which will make your rates go up or even cause your policy to be cancelled. Obviously that’s worst case scenario, but even still, it’s completely and totally unconscionable for this woman to assume that risk on your behalf without even consulting you.

    And that she knew you were going out of town in advance tells me that she planned in advance to undertake this project without consulting you at a time when you weren’t home to complain about it. That’s the very definition of a passive-aggressive power play and if you let it stand, you’re in for a lifetime of grief. I mean, this lady just assumed that you would have the money to pay for a repair you didn’t agree to or expect. What if you didn’t have the money? What if you didn’t want the repair done in the first place? And what the hell gave her the right to mangle your rosebushes? It’s time to get a little mad– give yourself the strength to get through this.

    So, I do think you should do a little bit of research first– what are the rules about shared property from your HOA and also look at the contract from when you bought the house. It should have been laid out for you, most responsible brokers would have insisted on it for everyone’s clarification and protection. Also, you should look at your homeowner’s insurance policy, or call your rep to figure out what liability and requirements are for work being done on your home. Figure out what policies are already in place, and if there are none, I’d seriously recommend spending a couple hundred dollars for a lawyer to consult and draw up a contract. It’s expensive now and money you don’t have or want to spend, but it can save you a bunch of time later when more disputes come up.

    I understand the need to walk a fine line here. Neighbor disputes like this one can escalate and become awful. So I think it’s important to keep a cool head, put everything in writing, and put an iron-clad policy in place– even if that means you both have to agree to an itemized maintenance schedule where you are both paying half the cost for a pro to do the job. So, my letter would be more like,

    “Dear Neighbor’s name,

    I realize that you were attempting to do a routine maintenance of our shared driveway on date. I have to let you know that we are very uncomfortable with the manner in which you decided to undertake this maintenance. We are particularly inconvenienced in that you did not consult us on the work or the cost beforehand as well as the fact that we were blocked from accessing our driveway when we arrived home. We will need to see itemized receipts for the materials before rendering any compensation.

    In addition, the policies we found (HOA, buyer’s contract, Homeowner’s insurance) dictates that we need XYZ before any such repairs or maintenance can be undertaken. We also request that you refrain from entering our property or making any changes without our prior consent. I understand that you are likely just trying to help us out, but it makes us uncomfortable to have people coming onto our property to make adjustments.

    We would like to work with you to come up with a set of solutions that works for us both regarding our mutual property maintenance. To that end we suggest XYZ solutions…

    Thank you for your understanding.

    Us

    • JenniferP said:

      Good letter.

      • Datdamwuf said:

        I second that, good letter

      • Erl said:

        Small nitpick, but I’d take the word “likely” out of “are likely just trying to help us out,” as it pings my passive-aggressive meter something fierce, and while it doesn’t necessarily take one to know one, one almost certainly will know one.

        Okay, that was a mess. It’s a minor edit, but I think extending the blanket presumption of good faith and cutting out possible passive-agressive misreadings out of the letter is worth your time.

        • FlyBy said:

          If you can assume a truckload of good faith and even praise her desire to be helpful, it’ll help keep her from becoming defensive and keep communication open. It’s not incompatible with setting boundaries clearly. Empathizing with her desire to keep the property looking nice might help too. It also sets you up as the nice, reasonable one.

          YMMV, depending on what you want to accomplish.

    • hlwest said:

      Thank you for mentioning the liability issue- that hadn’t occurred to me, but you are quite correct and I will be mentioning it when I talk to her. I like your letter, too, and will definitely be using parts of it.

  12. Nora said:

    Also I feel like it would be one thing if she paid a professional to do it, but it’s kind of ridiculous to ask you to pay her grandkids for it.

    • Chickie said:

      My thoughts as well!

      • hlwest said:

        That did fly through my mind as well- her choice to hire her grandkids, her problem.

  13. Karen said:

    The location of your respective properties ties you to this person in the future, like it or not. For that reason, I think diplomacy is super important.

    I think Captain Awkward’s suggestion for how to handle it is excellent. I suspect it will still ruffle feathers and the neighbor will feel admonished (as she should), but without feeling legally threatened. The only thing I would add is to insert how much having and being good neighbors means to you and how you hope & intend to continue to enjoy that. Let her know that you do appreciate her (for all the ways that she is a good neighbor). This is a situation that your good relations can come back from, with better boundaries, but I think it’s important that she knows that is your aim.

    A stronger, or more legalistic, response may be entirely justifiable on a lot of grounds (not the least of which is how satisfying it would be to unload on this woman!!) but I am less comfortable your neighborly relationship would bounce back from that.

    We’ve lived in our current home for 15 years as neighbors (some good, some bad) have come and gone. You would not believe the toll a bad neighbor can take on you. So the tl;dr version of this is: Try to fix this situation in a way so that you can both be good neighbors to each other going forward.

    • The Shorter Dinosaur said:

      I agree with Karen on this. I had a housemate who rearranged my desk and materials and moved them into a cramped corner of the attic with an upright mattress behind the desk chair as I was coming up to **¡¡¡prospectus sudden death!!!** in my PhD program. I flipped my shit, moved my desk etc. into my room, and then apologized for flipping my shit “so vehemently”. She behaved like a wounded child afterward and never apologized for violating my working space. The relationship never recovered. She played the victim the entire rest of the time she lived in the house, and played the victim to others. And by flipping my shit I mean I spoke very sternly and angrily but I did not shout. Be cautious about how you tell this lady she crossed a line.

      Since you will have to live with this woman for ages, I’d try to be as generous as you can while still *firmly* stating your boundaries. I think you should definitely also tell her you are seeking legal advice about the laws concerning shared property, and advise her to do the same. Put it to her as a way to avoid future disputes, so that you, your husband and her can meet, with the knowledge in hand, and come up with a process together of mutually agreed steps for coming to agreements on maintenance, etc. You can document the agreement process as well so both parties have it in case of some future disaster. I think anything more would be unlikely though because you will have indicated 1) you’re not afraid of appealing to the law and 2) you know she is trying to be nice, and you would just like that to happen in a planned way. And your lawyer can tell you what your legit options are about payment.

      If you were to just let this go though I believe you are right and she would continue to cross the line. She is either deliberately taking advantage or obliviously creating problems (maybe she just got carried away). But in either case, once you let someone cross a line, you open yourself up to them thinking that and more might be ok.

      Anyway, I’m sorry you’re having this experience. It must be super stressful and I hope the advice here is helping you find a way to move forward and relieve some of that stress.

      • Obsidian Entropy said:

        I know it sucks to not get along with a neighbor or roommate, but it really sounds like it’s her fault for a) violating your personal space, b) moving your desk into the attic (WTF?), and c) not understanding why you were mad at her.

    • Vir Modestus said:

      I heartily agree. So much of how you respond depends on how your relations have been with her up to this point. But, while you are totally justified in feeling as if you’ve been taken advantage of, it may be up to you to be the “bigger person” or at least, more reasonable one. Long festering feuds between neighbors can tarnish everything else that’s good about a neighborhood.

    • hlwest said:

      Yes, there really won’t be any way to avoid her, so diplomacy is definitely called for. In addition, she’s very friendly (read: gossipy) with the rest of our neighbors, and I truly don’t want everyone within 3 blocks of us thinking I’m a complete jerk.

  14. Esti said:

    First off: everyone else is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT that your neighbor was massively out of line and that you don’t owe her a cent. I would be *furious* if I was you.

    That said, this is a tricky situation because you have to walk a line between (1) standing your ground so that the neighbor doesn’t walk all over you in the future and (2) not pissing her off so much that it becomes unpleasant to live next to her. If not for the second part, I would be in favor of you and your partner telling her to go to hell. But living next to someone who actively dislikes you and is willing to be a jerk about it can be really, really unpleasant so for the sake of keeping the peace I think it’s probably worth moderating your response somewhat.

    Things I would do:

    -as politely but FIRMLY as possible, tell neighbor that you need to agree in advance to any joint repairs she wants to make (it’s not enough to just give you notice and then go ahead whether you want her to or not) and that she is NOT to do anything to your side of the property, including your half of the driveway, without receiving your permission first

    -definitely tell her not to touch anything that is solely on your property, including your plants

    -do you agree that the driveway needed to be sealed? is the amount she is “billing” you a reasonable price (taking into consideration that you did a chunk of the work yourself)? If the answer to both questions is yes, I would consider paying her for it — while making clear that in the future, you will not be contributing to any expenses for property upkeep that is done without your prior permission. If she wants too much money but you agree it needed to be done, I would give her the amount it would have cost had you chosen to do it a less expensive way

    -when she does come to you about repairs she wants to make in the future, try to stay as objective about them as possible — don’t let her pressure you into doing or paying for things that you don’t want to, but where a repair really is needed and her approach is reasonable, don’t be obstructionist for the sake of it (which I would be REALLY tempted to be, because again — massively out of line!)

    -if she ever does something like this again, your response needs to escalate. People are right about liability concerns when she is doing things on your property, and if you get into a pattern of her unilaterally fixing things and then paying her for them after the fact, she might be able to sue *you* if you ever hit a wall and decide to refuse to pay for something (because she had a reasonable expectation you would pay, based on your past pattern of letting her handle repairs without express permission). Plus it’s just not okay for your neighbor to be doing things to your property, and I imagine it would be really stressful to have to worry about that. If it happened again I would go for a sterner conversation + not paying her any money, and a third time would have me going to a lawyer

    -try to stay as pleasant as possible when you run into her around the property (you don’t need to be besties, but at least smile and say hi whenever you run into her) so that she less opportunity to turn this into some kind of grudge match in her mind. Growing up we had two neighbors who started out having a fight about trimming trees that straddled their property line, and because the more reasonable one didn’t make any attempt to go back to non-antagonistic interactions after that, the unreasonable one was able to keep escalating things into a multi-year battle over every tiny thing that comes up when your property borders someone else’s (you cleared your driveway snow into the front of my house! your fence goes an inch over the property line here! I will call the cops when you have pool parties in the afternoon because the children are a noise violation!). If she’s determined to be an unreasonable ass, you won’t be able to stop her and it won’t be your fault, but some minimal effort at friendliness might go a long way

    • Karen said:

      This is good perspective; walking a careful line is an excellent metaphor for this situation.

      Reading this, I realized that I had some questions about why the neighbor undertook this work in the first place, especially given the timing.

      Was it all some kind of innocent cluelessness, where she assumed LW would be grateful, albeit she got the timing wrong by a day? Or is there some kind of passive aggressive aspect to this project? I wouldn’t want to delve too deeply into the neighbor’s psyche, but LW might want to consider whether the neighbor’s high-handed actions is, in fact, retaliation for some problem or perceived slight. If so, the neighbor is likely to bring this up in a discussion (possibly heated!), and rather than be caught flat-flooted LW may want to be prepared to deal with that calmly to keep the conversation on track.

      • hlwest said:

        Honestly, I have to wonder if I inadvertently pissed her off, too. She’s not at all a passive person, but this whole thing just REEKS of passive aggressiveness. I’m not aware of anything I could have done, but I’m going in braced to be called on for some perceived misbehaviour and willingness to consider if I really was in the wrong somewhere.

    • I bet she paid the grandkids in cookies and intends to keep the cash for herself. Demand that you be compensated for your labor.

    • Zed said:

      “-do you agree that the driveway needed to be sealed? is the amount she is “billing” you a reasonable price (taking into consideration that you did a chunk of the work yourself)? If the answer to both questions is yes, I would consider paying her for it — while making clear that in the future, you will not be contributing to any expenses for property upkeep that is done without your prior permission. If she wants too much money but you agree it needed to be done, I would give her the amount it would have cost had you chosen to do it a less expensive way”

      Additionally, LW, I would suggest offering to pay ONLY for materials/supplies (with receipts). She chose to have her grandsons do (some of) the work, you don’t know if she even paid them, and you did some of the work yourself.

  15. Ace said:

    Oh my goodness, my parents had this problem when I was a baby. I once asked them why the vast majority of our backyard was paved and apparently it was down to a very similar neighbor dispute over a shared driveway. They dodged it by just building a new driveway on the other side of the house, but lost a good deal of the lawn the house came with because of it.

    I have to agree with everyone else, you’re not out of line for being pissed off. This lady was incredibly rude. I’m betting she saw you guys moving in as an opportunity to change some things she never liked about your property. I mean, waiting until you guys were away to have her grandkids do the driveway? Really?

    As pissed off as you are and as everyone else is, I’m in agreement that the first confrontation should at least make an attempt to keep her as a good neighbor. She might still be an ass about it all and you can’t control that if she’s ridiculous, but at least you know (and will have proof) that you tried. If nothing else that puts your mind at ease.

  16. chelseyesque said:

    In situations like this, I always stop and ask myself, “What do I really want out of this conversation?” So, LW, what do you really want? Any of the following might be part of your answer, like:

    1. Do you want the neighbor to apologize?
    2. Do you want the neighbor to agree never to instigate projects like this without your consent first? Or to agree never to trespass?
    3. Do you want to get your feelings off your chest so you don’t have to carry them anymore, even if the neighbor doesn’t really hear you?
    4. Do you want to say something but still ensure that you have a completely pleasant relationship in the future with this neighbor?
    5. Do you want to provide yourself with documentation for future legal recourse?

    I ask because what result you really want should probably dictate, for example, whether you refuse to pay for the driveway, or whether you mention the labor you had to put in yourself, or whether you focus on the trespassing or the billing-you-for-something-you-never-agreed-to, etc. That might mean deciding which is honestly more important to you: preventing something like this from happening again, or being on pleasant terms with your neighbor for years to come. Obviously in an ideal world you’d have both, but that might not be possible with this neighbor.

    • FlyBy said:

      This is excellent advice. What you want will inform how you talk to the neighbor. She will pick up on the attitude you come in with.

    • hlwest said:

      Thank you for these thoughts- I don’t really care so much if she apologizes, but I do want to avoid hostility from either of us, recurrances of this kind of thing, have documentation, and get the feelings off my chest. It will help to keep all of that in mind as I go and talk to her.

  17. Sheelzebub said:

    This is a big fucking deal, LW. You are not overreacting.

    First, call an attorney and find out what your rights are. If you have a home owner’s association, get the rules and regs and find out if she was within her rights (probably not, especially if she’s done the work herself and trying to bill you for it).

    Once you get that information together, send a letter with the following points to her, and copy your attorney and the HOA board.

    * Reiterate what you told us here–that she never even mentioned wanting the driveway done, that it was a surprise to you and that she knew you would be away. Also list the instances she has come onto your property and made changes on your property (NOT COOL).

    Tell her:

    * We are not paying this bill. We did not agree to this work being done, would have preferred to have budgeted for it and paid for a bonded professional to do it. We did our half of the driveway to keep the peace with you after you unilaterally decided for us that the driveway would be done. Your grandsons did work on your half of the drive way at your request; we neither requested their labor, agreed to it, or even knew about it. [Make sure your attorney says this is okay, etc.]

    * In the future, if you want to do something to maintain/improve our shared property, you must consult with us. The property is shared and you do not have the right to unilaterally decide for us what will be done, when it will be done, and who will do it. We expect to have imput on the work that will be done on our property, and would prefer to pay our money for bonded and insured professionals to do the job. [I am sorely tempted to add a snarky and unhelpful crack about how you're not here to provide summer employment for her grandsons, but don't do that.]

    * You will not come on to our property unless invited. You will not rearrange our lawn furniture, change our plants, or touch anything on our property. You will respect the fact that we own this property and we will decide what to plant and how to arrange our furniture.

    Copy your attorney and HOA if applicable. Why? Because the minute people see you’ve copied an attorney they tend to cut the crap. Copy your HOA so if she decides to be a pain in the ass, you’ve got the start of a paper trail. Also, it keeps them in the loop–no one likes surprises.

    Normally I am all for being nice to neighbors–and certainly, don’t be nasty to her. But you have to be very, very blunt and leave a very clear paper trail because it’s obvious she never met a boundary she didn’t like to ignore.

      • Elizabeth Powell said:

        Exactly right. In many states, there is a doctrine called “adverse possession” which means if you do not clearly tell your neighbor that their actions are not welcome, you could wind up losing your property. I wish I was kidding, but I am not.
        I know there are people here who think Americans are overly litigious. Could be true. But if the OP tries to placate the neighbor, the potential consequences are potentially devastating. I seldom recommend firing a metaphorical warning shot across a potential defendant’s bow, but this is one of those cases where it should be at least considered.

        • alphakitty said:

          Adverse possession law varies from state to state, but the claimant typically has to act in a manner that is clearly inconsistent with the actual owner’s rights (that’s the “adverse” part)(things like logging the property, building stuff over the line, paving new area over the line)(for a period of at least 7 years)… It is very hard to establish when as a matter of law the parties either jointly own the land in question or have mutual easements and shared responsibility for maintenance, so that acting like they have a right to be there or conduct maintenance would not necessarily put the actual owner on notice that they were asserting an adverse interest — especially when the actual owner is *also* openly acting like it is theirs.

          Moreover, if one is concerned about adverse possession, you don’t have to be litigious about it. Just document that you have given permission for the person to use the property in the manner in question. Permission defeats the adversity element.

          (Weird, isn’t it? Telling them they’re not welcome doesn’t actually protect you, if they continue to encroach and you don’t take legal steps to prevent them before they’ve been doing it for 7 uninterrupted years. It’s not “if you don’t tell them they’re not welcome, you can lose your property.” It’s “if you don’t tell them they ARE welcome AND they encroach uninterrupted for the statutory period AND you don’t take legal steps to stop them.”)

          Obviously, I’m a *former* lawyer who doesn’t know what state the LW is in, so this can’t constitute legal advice — just a general explanation of principles. To learn the law in your jurisdiction, you’d need to contact a local attorney.

    • I say they should charge her for their labor. Otherwise, excellent.

    • Mary said:

      Just wanting to re-emphasise, LW, you don’t face a stark choice between:
      1. involve a lawyer and begin a lawsuit; or
      2. do a whole bunch of research all by yourself and don’t begin a lawsuit.

      You may not be able to afford legal advice, but if you can, it seems sensible to get it, at least in a time limited way (it is totally possible to say something to a lawyer like: “I want an associate to research these questions for me, please do not exceed $X in billing”). It’s both faster and probably more certain than slogging through regulations by yourself. Having legal advice does not mean that the neighbour needs to know about it or that a lawsuit will begin, you would need to authorise either separately. And that is a totally legit question to ask a lawyer: “should the letter come from you/be Cc-ed to you? what would the pluses and minuses of threatening a lawsuit be?” (Lawyers advise people not to sue all the time.)

      • Allison said:

        You may want to read the bottom of the comments…turns out the neighbor isn’t the bad guy here. Unfortunately for the OP…

  18. Martine said:

    I don’t know if it’s worth mentioning, but we did tell her that we’d be gone for most of the week and what date we’d be returning, so she knew that we’d be back that morning.

    It IS worth mentioning! They DELIBERATELY went behind your back to do this! They deliberately waited until they knew you would be gone and not able to protest so that they could have a fait accompli and maybe guilt you into paying for something you didn’t ask for. (By the way, maybe read this Miss Manners post about people billing you for things you never asked for? Your neighbor is not the only one with some goddamn nerve.) Do NOT pay (unless as others have pointed out you’re actually legally required to, ugh). They’re not professionals who you hired, they’re your shitty neighbors who decided to do this without your knowledge (…do you even know that they did it RIGHT? Do you even know that they’re being honest about how much it cost?). They didn’t do you a service, they did THEMSELVES a service and inconvenienced you, deliberately, and want to charge you for their own labor. They’re basically trying to scam money out of you! You have every right to be angry. That you’re trying to assume good will is I’m sure a credit to how nice you are, but I really don’t think there is any good will to be had here. Seriously, what kind of person goes, “aha, our neighbors are on vacation, time to change their property without their knowledge and then bill them for it!”?

    I would go even further and wonder why they went along with their plan anyway when they couldn’t do the whole driveway. Maybe they were just that determined to do it when you weren’t looking, and if that meant they couldn’t do the whole thing, oh well. Maybe it was a BONUS because that way they didn’t have to do the whole thing and it would be less work.

    *I’m not really clear on if it’s really “shared” property, because you say the property line goes down the middle of the driveway? Surely there’s their bit and your bit, right? If so I don’t see how they have any right whatsoever to do ANYTHING on YOUR property without your permission (barring actual emergencies). I would be wary of calling it “shared property” if it’s technically not, in case it encourages her in thinking that she can just do whatever she likes with it.

    • alphakitty said:

      The way it’s usually done is that they would each own their own parcels, so yeah the property line technically does go right down the middle. However, they would also have reciprocal easements in their respective deeds giving one another a right to use the part of the driveway on each other’s land, with an covenant in the deed as well to share responsibility and costs for maintenance. How well/clearly those are drawn up by whoever prepared the original deeds can vary widely, but that’s the general structure.

      • hlwest said:

        This, exactly.

      • hlwest said:

        Yes, this, exactly.

      • Martine said:

        Ahhh, I see. Thanks for explaining.

  19. thegirlfrommarz said:

    There’s quite a lot of advice to consult a lawyer, and as I’m not in the US and I’m assuming the LW is, I don’t want to challenge that. But if you are going threaten the neighbour with legal action, then definitely make sure you not only have the law on your side but that you can afford to see it through.

    My parents had a dispute with a neighbour over a tree that was pushing down their wall which escalated into a fairly major fallout with the neighbours with lots of bad feeling on both sides. They had spoken to a solicitor about it and knew that the law was on their side. However, after they spoke to their neighbours about it, they found out that bringing a court case would cost c. £25,000 and their insurance company didn’t care about the garden wall until it fell over and wouldn’t take the neighbours to court. So nothing has happened except that the relationship with those neighbours is completely shot to pieces and the tree is still pushing over the wall, despite the fact that my parents are legally in the right.

    I agree with chelseyesque that considering what you want out of this interaction will help to focus how you handle it. If you do decide to pay your neighbour, I really like the idea of billing her for your labour and taking it off the total amount, as suggested above! Either way, I agree that you must make clear to the neighbour that it was unacceptable to do this work without agreeing it with you in advance, getting estimates and then choosing someone to carry out the work together, and she should not have done and must not do work to your property without your permission. I would probably put that in writing in case of any future “improvements” to your home that you haven’t asked for.

    • case-in-point said:

      In the US, I think all of the advice to consult a lawyer is not about taking anything to court, because it likely won’t come to that. It’s just that US property law is incredibly complex and can be different even from county to county within a state. It just seems wise to lay the problem out to a professional who will know all of the local codes and can say, “Here are your responsibilities, here are your liabilities, here are the pitfalls to avoid and here’s what I recommend you do.”

      • Mary said:

        (Not: not actually in the US.) Right, consulting a lawyer is far from the same thing as starting a legal action. At the beginning, it’s paying someone specialised in this area to either share their knowledge or do the research (and since they know where to look, they do it faster). They can then provide guidance among varying options, from lawsuits through to doing nothing at all.

        Not everyone has the luxury of being able to substitute money for time in this respect, for sure, and that sucks, but if the LW can afford it, it can save a respectable amount of agonising over obscurely worded documents, even if a lawsuit is never even mentioned.

  20. Martine said:

    …And: Oh, god, what are you going to do if you want to go on vacation again?! Or rather, what might SHE do? Maybe for future vacations you should ask someone trustworthy to come by while you’re gone to make sure she’s not doing any other little projects or messing with your stuff. “Just to keep an eye on things, make sure nothing’s wrong, oh and to make sure our neighbor hasn’t decided to dig up the lawn or something.”

  21. alphakitty said:

    The tone of some of the comments on this page really saddens me. They seem to come from a culture where “neighbor” only means “owner of the adjacent parcel” and all that matters are rights, not relationships.

    Perhaps it is because I am living in a rural area, where neighbors are the people we would pool resources with in any kind of emergency, people we socialize with, people who have helped raise our kids in that takes-a-village kind of way that allows our kids to have a lot more freedom because a lot of people are looking out for them.

    Or perhaps it is because I am a recovering lawyer, who left the profession in part because she hated the way the American legal system tends to drive the parties into hardening their positions against one another, escalating misunderstandings into feuds where people spend way more on lawyers than the value of the subject in dispute because goddamn it they are not giving an inch to those assholes!!! And because I hate that for a lot of people, “what I have a right to do” has supplanted considerations of “what is the right thing to do?”

    At any rate, I do not think it is time to contact the lawyers, or to take a pugilistic stance.

    Yes, the neighbor here overstepped her bounds, badly, and it is entirely possible that it was quite deliberate that she did it without speaking with anyone, while the LW was away. Or maybe resealing the driveway didn’t seem like that big a deal; it needed doing, she found she had the grandsons available to impress into service, she figured it was cheaper to do it that way than to hire a pro, so even though the LW and her husband were not around to be consulted or move the cars off the driveway she decided to go for it.

    Even the rosebush-trimming, which does suggest she has boundary issues, could be seen in another light: I have to confess, I’ve been known to mow a strip of my neighbor’s lawn that is contiguous with mine, cut off from the part of the yard she actively maintained by a bunch of ferns and brush and stuff… in a spirit of helpfulness. I knew it was hers. I was not trying to establish adverse possession (though yes, as a former lawyer I am familiar with the doctrine). I just did it once on a whim while I was right there with the riding mower and it was so easy, I figured I might as well, and she’d let me know if she didn’t want me to. If she’d said “please don’t,” I’d have apologized and never done it again. She didn’t, so every now and again when I mowed mine I’d mow that strip, too. Eventually she died, and a new guy moved in. My son mows our lawn now, I don’t know if he knows where the exact line is. It seems to be a non-issue for all concerned

    I’m not saying the LW doesn’t have a right to be annoyed, or to want to nip the intrusions in the bud. But *for the first time this kind of thing has come up between them* her draft note, and Jennifer’s original proposed script for a casual conversation while they hand over that note seemed pretty good to me. And yes, if paying for the sealing is not an issue, *this one time* they should go ahead and pay it.

    Perhaps she could make it clearer that it is not just a matter of appreciating, but “we need to have input into what is done, when it is done, and by whom it is done, especially if you expect to be reimbursed for a portion of the cost; we won’t pay again for work we have not approved in advance.” Maybe add a “for your convenience, I have enclosed a copy of the relevant deed language/homeowners association rules [or whatever applies here], which provides for prior approval of all such expenditures” or some such thing. And yes, she should keep a photocopy of the note in case it doesn’t do the trick, to have a record that you said you would not pay again for anything she had not preapproved.

    If the failure to respect boundaries continues, by all means: amp things up a bit with a formal letter. Refuse to pay. Etc. etc. etc. But try friendliness first. And maybe invite her over when you’re cooking out some night, before the summer is over. Knowing each other can make all the difference. And y’know, someday you may be more comfortable with your kids being home unsupervised because y’all are friends.

    • Vicki said:

      Alphakitty–

      I think the underlying problem here is that LW’s neighbor is not behaving in a neighborly way. Mowing the edge of someone else’s lawn while doing your own is usually neighborly (though my friend who had deliberately left the grasses long because they are more drought-tolerant that way is not happy). The rosebush is another matter, unless it was encroaching on the neighbor’s property and/or making it impossible to use the shared driveway.

      The neighborly thing to do would have been either to talk to LW first (my preference, and hers) or to reseal the entire driveway, and maybe ask for money for materials. Leaving LW with a messed-up driveway by starting the process at a time when it was impossible to do the whole thing is not helpful or generous. “Hey, would you like some ivy cuttings?” is generous. Unilaterally digging up part of someone else’s property and planting an invasive, non-native groundcover is not, no matter how much you like ivy.

      • alphakitty said:

        Except that they’ve lived there 3 years, and the LW described their previous relationship as amicable. While I agree that it was inappropriate, and the rearranging the furniture or whatever is downright odd, it is at least conceivable that in the neighbor’s mind she was doing something ok. Like, maybe she’s got experience with roses, and it was killing her to see the bush untended. And she has time on her hands and saw how busy these folks were, with 2 full time jobs on opposite shifts and trying to raise 3 kids and thought they weren’t tending the roses because it just never made it high enough up on their priority list to get done and never would, so she’d just pop over there and take care of that poor bush. I don’t know. But neither does anyone else who has written in about how the neighbor “clearly” was deliberately underhanded.

        Absolutely, it was not the right thing to do! Sure, she should have checked in with them whatever her intentions were. And it may indeed be that she is an evil encroacher who has no respect for other people’s territorial boundaries. Or maybe a very nice person who has no respect for territorial boundaries, and needs some pointed communication to let her know that “nice” with respect to the LW and her husband means staying on her side of the line.

        My issue is really that everyone seemed to jump to the conclusion that the neighbor is nemesis-material *before* the letter writer had any kind of conversation with the neighbor on this issue. In most relationships, if someone does something that bugs us, we tell them, give them a chance to explain. But for some reason, a lot of folks act like a legal property line is so sacrosanct that any violations thereof mean the other person is evil.

        Seriously, in my years as a lawyer what I found was that both sides always seemed to think they were being reasonable and that the other side was over the top. And an awful lot of the time, a non-accusatory, non-litigious response to the original precipitating conflict could have saved both parties years of stress and angst and pot and pots of money.

        I’m not saying “People are mostly great! Assume the best intentions!” I’m saying, “find out!” Don’t excessively vilify and huff about lawyers without at least trying to communicate in a non-adversarial manner (as Jennifer originally recommended). ‘Cause once you go all lawyery, it is awfully hard to salvage a pleasant relationship.

        Oh, and I’ll conclude by saying that I met our neighbor on the other side of our house shortly after we moved in. He was out there with a chainsaw cutting down trees in between our houses, probably in violation of the covenants in our deeds. I never actually checked the covenants. We talked. I got what he was doing. He has been one of our family’s dearest friends for 15 years by now. Sure glad I didn’t get all lawyery.

        • hlwest said:

          I’m fairly certain the rose bush thing was just her trying to be helpful, because she is an advid gardner, and the rosebush was getting a touch overgrown- I had already told her that I was going to be taking care of it shortly, but just didn’t have the time THAT DAY, and the next thing I knew, she’d cut it back. That’s the main reason I didn’t get all huffy with her about that at the time. I do believe her intentions were good. They may very well have been just as good intentions this time, but this time was just… too far. And who knows how far her NEXT step would take her, you know?

          • Alphakitty said:

            Oh yeah; I quite agree that you need to let her know that this sort of “helpfulness” is not ok. I totally endorse your approach. My issue was just with commenters who assumed the worst about her thought processes and wanted you to refuse to pay and get all lawyery at her right off the bat, without just trying to communicate your needs and boundaries in a respectful, friendly, but firm manner first.

  22. Anon21 said:

    On the opposite side of “don’t pay her a damn cent”: at least in the U.S., the most common rule for the most common kind of concurrent property interest (the tenancy in common) is that each owner CAN be forced to pay for the cost of any repairs to the property in proportion to their share in the property. That may not actually be the rule where LW is, and certainly there may be something in LW’s deed that modifies that obligation, but LW should consider that there’s a possibility she might have to pay back with interest if she doesn’t pay back now.

    That may be an argument for consulting a lawyer prior to the discussion if the LW really wants to go the “don’t pay her” route. If she’s willing to pay this time, it might be more economical to go with the Captain’s edited script and hope that that sufficiently resolves the issue so as not to require legal advice in the future.

    • Anon21 said:

      Sorry, I meant it might be more economical to go with the Captain’s UNedited script.

  23. Thneedle-dee-dee said:

    “Good fences make good neighbors!”

    Yes, yes they do! And so I have to wonder if the LW is allowed to put a fence around her yard. If the HOA’s rules don’t forbid it, it would be an excellent response to this invasion. (Even a 2-foot fence will get the message across without blocking any views.)

    • hlwest said:

      I really wish I COULD put up a fence, for more than just this reason, but logistically it doesn’t make sense. A fence, with the way the driveway, sidewalk and patio are laid out would actually make using our yard very inconvenient. I console myself by imagining that I’m not the only woman in the world who fantasizes about fences…

  24. CPALady said:

    I think the Captain’s script is great!

    My advice is for if it doesn’t work, or you continue to have issues with this neighbor being a grade A jerk. Rather than running off to small claims court (expensive and/or time consuming), this is exactly the sort of situation mediators were designed for. They generally are inexpensive (certainly far less than lawyers) and are very skilled at getting unreasonable people to behave reasonably.

    • alphakitty said:

      Yes. Mediators’ agenda is, in part, to preserve relationships. You get faster results, lower financial costs, and a lot fewer Pyrrhic victories with mediators than you do with lawyers.

      • CPALady said:

        Yeah, my husband is a lawyer so I definitely think they have a place in property disputes. But he would be the first to tell you that most clients coming to him for this sort of litigation want an impartial party (e.g. judge) to tell them they’re RIGHT and they were MISTREATED and HOW COULD THAT JERK DO THAT TO YOU, YOU POOR DEAR.

        (not that you would want that letter writer… it’s just how my husband ends up seeing a lot of smallish litigation cases)

        And that’s just not a good use of any one of the parties’ resources. Most things like this are able to be worked out without much involvement from an attorney. Having an attorney help you figure out what your legal responsibility is in regard to joint use property/easements? Perfectly reasonable. Spending 45 minutes on the phone with your attorney every time your neighbor does something rude/offensive? Not productive.

  25. hlwest said:

    Hi, LW here.

    Wow, thank you so much for answering my letter! I admit to feeling a little silly after I hit the send button, because after seeing you handle so many sensitive and heavy topics, this seemed so minor in retrospect.

    I really appreciate all of the suggestions (and validation that I’m not over reacting!)

    As much as the thought of a face to face makes my palms go all sweaty, I think that it probably would be the best way to handle it, and I’m going to try to do that tonight, while I’m still just a *little* angry. I’ll have to go by myself because a) Beloved couldn’t join me until Saturday at the earliest and I might lose my nerve and b) he most likely wouldn’t contribute much to the discussion anyway (a WHOLE ‘nother subject).

    Technically, the driveway isn’t shared per se, it’s just an easement where we each own our own parcel, but have access rights. I’ve always been sure to be very considerate with our parking habits, as has she (mostly).

    I did find out that I don’t HAVE to pay her, legally, but I’m going to anyway because I do feel that the maintenance should be a joint endeavor- I’m not mad about that being done, just the WAY it was done. Plus, this way I get to feel superior (just a tiny bit) and I’m just spiteful enough to enjoy that. :P

    I’ll let you all know how that turns out!

    Again, thank you very much.

    • alphakitty said:

      The moral high ground is a great place to stand!

    • sasha said:

      Hi LW – I think yours sounds like a good plan, and what I would do were I in your shoes. Even though you may not HAVE to pay, legally, going ahead and paying her – while letting her know in no uncertain terms that she should consult with you in the future – will probably going a long way towards maintaining an amicable relationship with her (and, from the sounds of her gossiping, the rest of the neighborhood).

      Many people have suspected she acted passive-aggressively in choosing to seal the driveway when she knew you’d be away. But I had another possible thought: outdoor concrete sealing has to be done when you’ll have several consecutive days of relatively warm and dry weather. If you’re in Arizona that’s not a problem, but here in the Pacific Northwest it can be rare to get 3 straight days without rain, even in mid-summer! Depending on where you live, maybe her choice of timing had more to do with a combination of weather and when her grandkids were available, rather than a passive-aggressive swipe at you?

      Regardless, I wish you best of luck in your confrontation with her tonight. You can do it!

  26. Bunny said:

    I just want to check this.

    So. Your neighbour knew you were going away, and knew how long you’d be back. The length of time you were due to be away was all of one week, and the work was not life or death urgent (due and needed, but not urgent).

    She could have waited until you got back, talked to you about it and the whole thing would have gone smoothly with both households involved, nothing in the way and payment agreed. Or if she needed it done that week, could have mentioned it before you left, allowing you at the very least to move your vehicles out of the way.

    She chose to wait until you were away before starting it. She hired her (possibly unqualified, we don’t know) grandchildren to do the work, paid them and sent you a bill along with instructions for half the work. She also did some things to your property.

    LW, you’re not being irrational. Your neighbour was out of line and I suspect the timing was intentional. I would definitely write rather than speak in person.

    Dear Neighbour,

    Please find enclosed our cheque for [AMOUNT] to cover our half of the bill for the driveway.

    I am pleased that the driveway work has been done, as it was due, and am happy to pay on this occasion. However, I would like to discuss this with you going forward.

    As we were away during the week the work was done we were unable to move our belongings out of the way, which unnecessarily delayed the work. We were also blocked from entry to our property by the half-finished work when we arrived, and then received an unexpected bill for something that we had no opportunity to budget for. As you knew we were due to be away, and when we were due to return, we would have appreciated if you’d either talked to us about the work before we went away or waited to do it until we returned.

    In the future, if bills are presented to us for work without notice I cannot guarantee that we will be able to pay them.

    I understand that you were doing this to be helpful, and really do appreciate it, but matters like this can be thorny issues between neighbours and, in order to avoid any problems in the future, I’d like to talk to you about this in person. Are you available to visit us for coffee etc etc?”

    If your neighbour doesn’t get in touch that day to arrange a meeting, be sure to chase her up in person.

    I’d save the specifics (notice in advance, joint budget decisions, no entering your property or messing with your stuff) for talking about in person, because tone can be hard to bring across in writing, although I would reconfirm any agreements you make in writing after the meeting.

    Doing it this way means the discussion doesn’t come across as an unexpected shock to your neighbour, gives your neighbour a chance to reread the letter, calm down and prepare for the discussion and hopefully be less defensive.

    ***

    Also, I could be misinderstanding but the impression I got from your letter is neighbours family did some, but not all of the work, and you were expected to do the rest yourself by hand. Not to be trite, but why are you paying for half the work done by your neighbour’s family? Your neighbour chose to pay for labour for her half of the job, not for yours.

    • CPALady said:

      My reading was that SOME of the LW’s side was completed by the neighbors grandkids, and the letter writer did the portion that could not be completed that first day (I think… something like this)

      • Bunny said:

        Ah, that makes more sense.

      • hlwest said:

        Yes, the neighbor and her grandsons did as much as they could with our vehicles in the way, and then she informed us that the rest was our responsibility to finish.

  27. Allison said:

    Hi lhwest,

    I agree with all the comments above – you are definitely not overreacting, and I wish you the best of luck for this situation!

    One thing that really jumped out to me in your letter (besides being annoyed on your behalf about the rude neighbor) was: “My Beloved is very laid back and just shrugged when I said that I’m upset about this, so maybe I am over-reacting?”

    Does he really think this is no big deal?

    I do not want to make huge assumptions from a small sentence, but is there a chance your beloved is the type that is uncomfortable with any negative thoughts/feeling at all? Worst case: you are made to feel over-emotional, hysterical, or irrational about any sort of problem. Best case: you act laid back about everything as well, and get walked over by other people, such as your neighbor.

    I only ask because in a previous relationship, any and all negative thoughts or feelings I had were considered BAD and EVIL, irrational, and should go away immediately. It didn’t matter the intensity (mild annoyance to furious) or how justified. I was shamed for anything negative. Also, being calm and “laid back” was considered way superior, and what the heck was my problem anyway?

    Anyhoo, I do hope your laid back beloved isn’t like that – and your beloved is willing to stand up for you or get your back when needed. If not, I am pulling out the old counseling card for you. Suppressing all negative feelings can be fear of “losing control,” lack of empathy, and deep rooted from what someone learned as a kid.

    Do any other commenters have thoughts on this? I fully realize that personal experience colors perceptions.

    • hlwest said:

      Your comment is very timely, as it turns out.

      I was interpreting his shrug not so much as “hey, you’re over reacting and should just chill”, because for the most part he rarely thinks (or at least says) that about me. I tend to think things out before acting, and usually when I’m mad I’ll wait until I’ve calmed down and had a chance to gather my thoughts before I act.

      Turns out.. I don’t know. I just dont’ know.

      No, he doesn’t have my back.

      I am. I am falling apart right now. I am humiliated and hurt and so fucking angry. And it’s all his fault.

      If it wouldn’t involve leaving my kids unsupervised, or having to figure out what to do with them when I get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow, or some other incredibly unfair consequense to them, I’d walk out right now.

      I love him so much, and I would NEVER put him in the position he’s put me in.

  28. hlwest said:

    Guys, oh, damn guys.

    I am so fucking hurt and humiliated and angry and… just everything right now.

    I went over, so calm and trying to not look as nervouse as I felt, and began my carefully rehearsed little speach about how we appreciate her doing this, and it looks so good, and blah blah blah, but we need advance notice, so we can prepare and budget, etc, blah blah blah.

    and she told me that she DID talk to my damn husband about it well before we went on vacation. She told him that she had noticed it needed to be done, that she was willing to get it taken care of, that she’d keep an eye out for a good stretch of weather. She did everything she should have.

    He never fucking told me.

    And then, when I’m telling him how upset I am about it al, when I’m typing up my oh-so-polite-and-firm letter and emailing it to him so he can look it over (just seemed like since I was using a whole shit ton of “us” and “our” and “we”, and was going to put his name at the bottom with mine, he should at least know what I was going to say), he never said anything then, either.

    so I feel absolutely horrible. I feel so embarrassed, and I feel like I interrupted my neighbor’s evening and got all self rightous and angry over nothing.

    I’ve never been so angry at him before. I’ve been getting slowly unhappy in our marriage for the last little while, for a lot of little reasons, and was debating writing in to Captain Awkward about THAT when this came up and…

    Damn. Fucking damn asshole.

    His response, when I asked him why he didn’t mention it at the time, or NOW, like BEFORE I went over and got all self rightous with our neighbor was, “sorry, thought I had”.

    IF YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD MENTIONED IT JERKFACE WHY DIDN”T YOU SAY “HEY, WHY ARE YOU GETTING MAD AT HER FOR THIS??

    He also didn’t mention that she had gone out of her way yesterday to go buy some addition supplies that were unexpectedly needed so that it could be finished yesterday that weren’t included in the “bill:” she sent us the day before yesterday (which I just got yesterday). She was just going to swallow that cost out of the goodness of her heart.

    I am so.. I can’t even handle this right now.

    • Allison said:

      Oh my. How upsetting to find that out. So sorry.

    • JenniferP said:

      Holyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy crap. I am so, so, so sorry. We will be taking back all the mean things we said about the neighbor.

      How’s your Team You looking? Friends? Therapist or counselor? Who can you call tomorrow to sit with you and hold your hand and feed you good things?

    • Alphakitty said:

      Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. The neighbor dispute seems so insignificant by comparison. Take care of yourself, okay? And when you get a moment send that other letter.

    • Oh. Oh wow. I am sorry to hear that! That’s a punch in the gut.

      OTOH, and this is a very slender ray of light, you know how to deal with the neighbor: an apology and a quick explanation (assuming you didn’t already). At least you have a good neighbor?

      But the spouse… huh.

      Aside from forming up Team You and all that, as the Captain suggests, you could think about redirected anger and embarrassment becoming even more anger. You are seriously pissed off! It’s totally appropriate! But combined with your note about how you’d been feeling dissatisfied lately, I wonder if you’re feeling ALL THE ANGER about ALL THE THINGS in addition to the situation specific WIFE SMASH anger?

      It’s a fine thing if you are. Sometimes we need a kind of door to step through to the real emotional morass we’re hiding from. I mention it because it’d suck to be all RAGE RAGE GRRR and then talk about this specific incident and it seems solved… but you still feel angry and upset and feel guilty about feeling that and argh.

      Definitely have a conversation with the spouse over this. Keep that conversation just to this, and parcel out only the anger related to this. If you feel more, such as from all the stuff that hasn’t been going well for you, deal with that in a different conversation. Therapy and Team You can be super helpful when you’re trying to figure out what you’re really seriously pissed off about.

      Oh sweetie. Three kids, opposite shifts, a house you can barely keep up with, and a husband who fails to mention important things that are so important you go writing to the Internet about… when do you have time to relax? How can you just be together?

      It is fucking hard. I am so sorry.

    • Martine said:

      What!!! That’s awful! But, if it helps, you didn’t get angry over nothing, you just got angry at the wrong person due to not having all the facts. I take back what I said about the neighbor.

      I feel like this makes it worse somehow that you had to do part of the work yourself and trigger your pain disorder? Because your husband should know about that and be more sensitive to it.

      *jedi hugs*

    • Mary said:

      Oh no! Poor you, and poor neighbour.

      For what it’s worth in your neighbour’s position, I’d be totally open to a “I’m so so sorry about the misunderstanding with the driveway, we sure have egg on our face, again, really sorry” conversation. If that’s worrying you, I think it will probably be fine.

      Good luck with resolving (together, or on your own) what happened with your husband. *jedi hugs*

    • Starling said:

      I am sorry. Jedi hugs for you, if you want them, and Jedi sleep, too, since that’s probably in short supply with three kids and opposite shifts.

    • Bunny said:

      That’s terrible!

      Yeah, I retract everything I said about your neighbour and give it right back to your husband.

      Now, I can understand forgetting to mention something like this. The mister and I forget to tell each other things ranging from “the laundry needs doing today” up to “we’re going to your mothers for three days tomorrow” because we both apparently had our skulls replaced with sieves.

      But after you got angry about the work? Or after you draft a letter to your neighbour and get him to read it over? And when you tell him you’re going over there to talk to her about it? Yeah, you bleeding well bet that would have been a good time for him to pipe up with “but I thought you knew about the work…”

      I don’t know what the other issues you’ve been having in your relationship are, so I can’t say how bad a situation things are in, but your husband definitely deserves a stern, no excuses TALK about not leaving you out of the loop on important things, and on not letting you be made to feel foolish (you weren’t foolish at all of course, just not given the relevant information).

      Blimey. I mean, really, he fucked up.

      At least the neighbour issue can be easily resolved now. A simple “I’m so sorry, my husband didn’t tell me anything about the work” should be more than sufficient.

    • kristinmh said:

      Wow, that is really…wow. Either he decided to mess with your head in a really cruel and humiliating way, or….he literally doesn’t listen to anything you say? When you speak all he hears is what the adults sound like on Charlie Brown? He has a brain rumour that’s causing hearing loss? He suddenly stopped understanding English?

      I’m trying to imagine a scenario in which him doing this is anything other than a giant non-verbal FUCK YOU but I just can’t.

    • Lilly said:

      Wow, that must really have been a shock.

      I don’t understand it. Is your husband just really disconnected so he’s not listening to anything or really present and so none of this is really registering? If so, why? Is he also having issues with the marriage and retreating into himself? Is he very depressed?

      The other possibility is that he is the passive aggressive one, but that sounds really nasty and gaslighty. “I thought I had” – what?

      I’ve had occasions with my bf where he has totally forgotten to tell me that he has arranged a social thing for us, until the last minute – and he genuinely believes that he had told me. Because he juggles too many things and has a sieve-brain. We solved it by talking and learning how to use Google calendar. But unless there is other stuff going on e.g. your husband is very depressed and not functioning, it is not reasonable that he would fail to discuss the fact that he thought he told you about your neighbor after you started getting upset, writing emails, including him in that, etc.

      It makes me angry the more I think about it.

      Do you have a therapist? Would couples therapy help?

    • CL said:

      I’m so sorry. I just want to say that you didn’t do ANYTHING wrong here. You handled the situation really well based on the information that you had, and it’s not your fault that you had the wrong information. I understand why you feel embarrassed at what your neighbor might think — I’d probably feel the same way — but please don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed when you think of yourself. You sound like a kind and reasonable person. None of this is your fault.

      It sounds like your husband was actively pretending even when he knew you would find out the truth, which strikes me as very strange. When you got home, was he acting like he was surprised that the work had been done? Did he pretend he agreed with your letter? (You don’t have to answer, just thinking as I type)

      Even if he had some reason to hide his involvement from you (which doesn’t make sense) you’d think simple self-interest would motivate him to either 1) discourage you from talking to the neighbor, or 2) come clean once it was apparent that you were going to talk to the neighbor and find out anyway. I don’t know what to make of this.

      So many jedi hugs to you.

      • hlwest said:

        It is strange. I would never, ever have imagined that he’d put me in this position. I just… I’m so confusedmadscaredhurt right now. He flat out told me that he was “good” with the letter. He seemed just as surprised by the driveway being blocked off. Which, I could understand if it had slipped his mind before that, he could have said right then “ah, geez! I totally forgot she said she was going to take care of this, by the way we’re going to owe roughly $_______ for supplies”. I wouldn’t have been mad. I have a really great memory, truly stellar, but even I sometimes have things slip my mind, you know?

    • Obsidian Entropy said:

      I am so sorry your husband did that to you. I second Captain in taking back all the mean things I said (and thought) about your neighbor. She seems like she’s actually a very considerate person (e.g. checking with your husband first, swallowing the cost of the extra supplies, etc.) I redirect all my angry feelings towards your husband.

      Take care. And good luck.

    • Pterinochilus murinus said:

      Oh no. What was he thinking? Has he done anything like this before?

      You mentioned in your letter that he’s “very laid back”. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I suspect it might be key here. Did you mean he’s extremely conflict-averse, to the point where he set you up for humiliation by neighbour because he didn’t want to admit that he’d forgotten to tell you? Or does “laid-back” mean lacking in empathy, that he doesn’t see what’s so bad about what he did to you and what you thought your neighbour did to you?

      And you asked him BOTH why he didn’t tell you before you left for vacation, AND why he didn’t tell you before you complained to the neighbour, and he said “I thought I had” to both of those questions? That’s bizarrely unsatisfactory.

      You are absolutely right to be angry, possibly even angry enough to end the relationship. He is not acting like a trustworthy person.

      • hlwest said:

        He has gotten rather more passive in the last year or so, he didn’t used to be. He used to just be calm and quiet, but you know “use his words”. I don’t know what was going on in his head. Our conversation about this so far has mostly involved me asking him how he could have not told me that he talked to her, with all the opportunities I gave him to, and him not really having a good answer. I was… very upset. I don’t yell when I get mad/hurt, I cry, all over the place. So, the bulk of our conversation will have to wait until this weekend when we’re both home at the same time, and I’ve calmed down a bit, and I can look him in the eye and find out where his head is at.

        • Pterinochilus murinus said:

          I think that’s very sensible, waiting until you’re calm and have time to talk it through. Good luck.

    • Oh, God, I’m so sorry. His number one job is to have your back and he just did something nasty to you in a very passive way. I’d keep the neighbor and dump the husband. That kind of not caring for your feelings gets worse. Your feelings are important—and they should be to him, too. I hope it gets better.

    • Oh, LW, I am so so sorry to hear this latest development. I have nothing more useful to offer, just wanted to add my support with the others’. I hope the Cap’n can offer you some good advice about your situation even if it’s not a letter/response that ends up being posted publicly.

  29. JC said:

    Oh LW you poor old thing! It sounds like this isn’t one of those currently embarrassing but we’ll laugh about it in a few months things either. Instead it sounds like the straw that broke your camel’s back. I’m so sorry.

  30. Wow. Just, wow.

    If you ever want to write the Unhappy In Your Marriage letter that you discarded in favor of the one you wrote, Team Awkward Commenters are here for you. In the meanwhile, I hope things get better.

    • Copcher said:

      Agreed! And good luck. That sounds terrible.

  31. Ellen said:

    I’m so sorry LW, of all the ways I thought this one would end, I didn’t see this coming.

    I’m sure things will work out fine with your neighbour – if I was in her position, I would think “Hmm, obviously a misunderstanding happened. Oooh, Big Bang Theory is on!” and probably forget all about it. Then the next time I wanted to get work done, I’d tell BOTH of you and make no assumptions you knew what he knew.

    As for your husband. . . I have no words of advice on that (plenty of thoughts, none of them useful, all of them already said by other commenters). Assemble Team You without delay and luxuriate in the supportiveness of the Captain’s commentspace and have all the Jedi hugs I can throw at you.

    • hlwest said:

      My neighbor has been very awesome about it, actually, once she realized that there was just a huge miscommunication. I really feel awful now, for judging her so harshly.

      • alphakitty said:

        Remember, it’s not your fault that you were working from incomplete information. I don’t think your response was that harsh, anyway. Mostly, you just wanted to lay down some bright-line boundaries for the future.

  32. Datdamwuf said:

    Take care of yourself, jedi hugs. Gaslighting you to the point of not only making you feel crazy but making you look crazy to your neighbor is nasty. He reviewed your letter and still did not tell you he was consulted. Wondering if he also tells you your memory sucks when it doesn’t.

    • hlwest said:

      He’d have a very hard time convincing me that my memory sucks, since I inherited my Mom’s perfect recall. I can’t claim any bragging rights, it’s not like I trained a good memory, I was just literally born with the ability to remember almost EVERYTHING.. Which is pretty much as bad as good.

      He could, if he were so inclined, which mostly I don’t think he is (this whole situation is just so.. surreal to me, it’s so weird), gaslight me with “over reacting” or being “silly”, accusations I am rather sensitive to, due to other situations.

      • jp said:

        *He could, if he were so inclined…gaslight me with “over reacting” or being “silly”, accusations I am rather sensitive to, due to other situations.*

        Oh, sweetie. This worries me. Does he frequently accuse you of “over-reacting” or being “silly”? Because remember how that was the main substance of your concern in the original letter–“am I just over-reacting to this situation?” And remember how emphatically we were all HELL TO THE NO! Had that situation truly been what you believed it to be, you would have been SO in the right, and the fact that you even doubted yourself over it shows how sensitive indeed you are to that accusation. So if he is constantly undermining you like that, and that has led to this insecurity about whether or not you have the “right” to get upset about whatever is upsetting you–well, it’s just another hard thing you’ll have to think about.

        I’m interested in alphakittie’s suggestion about the Snowballing Lie of Omission–it is a possibility, and one that maybe takes some of the sting out of his actions. But damn, if I were you, I would still have to think really hard about whether it is healthy to stay with someone who is that passive, that cowardly, and that unwilling to admit a mistake, even at the point of knowing bad things will happen to you. That he could actively lie (“oh, the letter’s fine”), and that, fully knowing your nervousness about confrontation, he did not stop you–well, even if it wasn’t deliberately malicious, it says some really troubling things about him, and how much you can count him on Team You.

        Best wishes to you.

        • hlwest said:

          Oh, no, no, no- I did not mean to imply that. I’m sensitive to that accusation because of completely different people in my past He’s actually very good about NOT ever saying or implying that I’m ‘over reacting'” or “silly”. I still have a tendency to second guess myself about it, though.

        • jp said:

          Aaaaannd–should have read to the end of the thread! SO happy to hear the positive conclusion! Yay you!

          By the way, does alphakitty get a cookie for correctly giving BOTH parties the benefit of doubt? And for coining the Snowballing Lie of Omission phrase; I think that’s a keeper.

  33. alphakitty said:

    So, I thought about this: I tried to give the neighbor benefit of some doubt, and it turned out she deserved it more than I had even guessed. What’s the best that can be said for the husband?

    What I’ve come up with is the Snowballing Lie of Omission: When you and your husband and the kids came back at 4 am and the driveway was unusable and it totally sucked and you got upset at the neighbor for doing it, he was tired and cranky too and didn’t feel like owning up to the fact that he’d authorized her to do that, partly because of course he hadn’t foreseen it meaning the driveway would be blocked off when you got home.

    And then when you were grumping about doing the remaining driveway work, he chickened out again, because he realized he should have owned up the night before. And then by the time you were full-out distressed and worked up to writing letters and having Conversations with the neighbor, he knew he was way, way late with his confession. And he did the totally cowardly thing and let you embarrass yourself/him with the neighbor instead of just owning up then.

    Cowardly, weaselly, dumb. Gaslighty. That’s the best I can come up with! Definitely calling for some serious discussion. But maybe something that can/should be used as a catalyst for what sounds like some overdue discussion about Other Ongoing Issues, rather than the One Unforgivable Thing That Brought Down the Whole House of Cards?

    • sam said:

      I was trying to come up with a best case for the husband as well (not that there’s much of one), and the only other thing I’d add is that perhaps the initial neighbor-husband conversation wasn’t that firm on details – neighbor was all “I noticed this needed to get done and I’ll take care of it when the weather works” and the husband responded vaguely but affirmatively with a “yeah sure”, meaning “that’s great, let us know when it looks like a good time” and what neighbor heard was “you have my full and complete permission to do the work”. In this sort of situation, I can even understand the husband being baffled when y’all arrived home at 4am to discover the blocked driveway, because in his understanding of the conversation things were never firmed up to that degree (and the neighbor proceeding without an immediate heads up to move the cars, etc., still seems weird to me, just for practicality’s sake).

      BUT, none of this excuses his complete and continued burying of the truth of the situation (even if was originally a mutual misunderstanding based on a vaguely worded agreement) so that you could sit and stew for days at the neighbor when, at worst on her part, it was a misunderstanding. That’s just shit behavior.

    • Martine said:

      REALLY cowardly. I mean, how hard would the admission have been early on (say, the next morning)? “Oh, yeah, she mentioned that [but I didn’t realize it would be this week [if in fact he didn't know the exact time]], thought I told you about it but I guess I forgot, sorry.” Isn’t it just a lot easier to own up to something while it’s still small?

      This is like one of those books where the characters have a misunderstanding and the whole plot of the book is based on it, despite it being something that one character knew the other had misunderstood and that they could have cleared up in about half a minute, but they didn’t, for no clear reason.

  34. hlwest said:

    Thank you, oh awesome army of awkwardness. I did send the letter I’d been debating sending, but it’s like, wicked long, so it’s possible that the Captain might choose not to post it, and understandably so. That’s one of the reasons I was still debating whether or not to write that letter when the-neighbor-thing-that-actually-wasn’t-a-neighbor-thing-after-all came up.

    You guys are… well, awesome.

  35. Esti said:

    This is obviously a very context-dependent situation, but I’ll be the voice of dissent and say… maybe there is an innocent explanation and it’s a good idea to cool off a bit and not go in with guns blazing assuming the worst?

    First off, I really don’t think you need to worry about the neighbor. It sounds like your prepared speech was pretty polite, in which case I think this is a non-event from her perspective — she explained, you realized there was a miscommunication on your end, you apologized. No big deal on that end. (I will say, knowing a bit more now about how your property is set up, that if you have a single driveway that you both have access rights to rather than one where there’s a clear line down the middle and you each own your half, then your neighbor is probably totally within her rights to do necessary maintenance and bill you for it, though it’s obviously more reasonable to talk it over first.)

    The thing with your husband is a little harder to gauge. Maybe your neighbor mentioned she wanted to do this and he said “yeah, sure” when she mentioned cost-splitting, but it wasn’t super-specific and he thought you were mad about the way it went down (billing for her grandsons’ time, leaving you nowhere to park at 4:00 a.m.). Then it’s not like he let you go over there to complain about the exact thing he thought he’d told you, and it would also explain why he thought you were having a bit of an overreaction. I would still be annoyed that he hadn’t told me and kind of blew off my anger about the situation, but I don’t think that in itself would be a huge issue that would leave me angry for days or anything.

    This is obviously very context-dependent, and there might be a not-so-good explanation instead. If your husband knew damn well what was going on and was either ignoring you so much for the past few days that he didn’t realize what you were mad about or he knew what was going on and for some reason let you go over there anyway, I would be pretty furious, too. And it sounds like there may be all kinds of other issues there which could obviously exacerbate the situation. But based solely on this incident and how little is known about it, I just think that maybe it’s a good idea to take a breath and not get too mad until you know what went on. Things with your neighbor turned out to be a totally innocent misunderstanding, maybe this will, too.

    • Here’s hoping. Then again, if there was already a super-long letter in the works about the husband, context may not be all that favorable.

  36. Private Editor said:

    LW, I am so, so sorry all of this has happened to you. You sound like a really great person whom anyone would be proud to know. The Awkward Army has already supplied you with great heaps and loads of awesome advice, so I will just say that I hope things work out okay for you.

  37. Kathleen said:

    LW. Wow. I’m so sorry, this is awful. I’m concerned that husband may have forgotten because he’s… taking new meds, using too many controlled substances, drinking too much. Something bad and chemical. And I really hope that I’m wrong. If you’re working oposite shifts and not seeing each other that often I’m afraid he’s found a new toxic way to ” relax” and it’s affecting his brain functioning. I hope I’m wrong and he’s just being a jerk. But this could open a whole new nasty pandorras box… Please take very good care of yourself.

    • I’ve come up with a theory involving an improperly applied q-tip and a tiny piece of cotton fluff stuck to some vital part of the emotional center of his brain, because the other available explanations seem Not So Great.

  38. L. said:

    Wow, LW. I was flabbergasted when I read about your neighbor’s behavior (and couldn’t come up with great advice because I don’t know what to do about my own low-level obnoxious neighbors), now I’m flabbergasted when I read about your husband’s. I don’t know if it was severe passive aggression or what, but as another commenter said, his behavior is weird and not good. Nor is it your fault you judged your neighbor–you made the logical conclusion with the information you had at the time.

    I’m sorry this sucks and I hope your discussion with your husband is… productive? Enlightening? Helps you decide on next steps? Sheesh.

    Big hugs to you.

  39. Wow, your neighbour sucks. Many years ago my mum wanted to repaint my flat (she didn’t live there and had never lived there: I was going to be away for a while and she thought my flat should be repainted while I was away). I thanked her for the kind thought and told her firmly no: only to find that she’d used my spare key, left with her for emergencies, and re-painted it anyway. She got quite angry that I refused to pay her for either paint or the fee that she’d paid the couple who’d got it done, and attempted to screw around with my feelings about how now she wouldn’t be able to do Something Nice for my sister that she’d planned (but my sister, equally outraged, agreed this was my mum’s doing, not mine, and the screwing-around backfired).

    Your neighbour is way out of line and you definitely should set boundaries in a way that she will never forget. (Messing with your garden? WAY out of line.)

    A few years ago, my roof developed a leak. I live in a block that’s effectively four houses, and it was my general understanding that all repairs are shared four ways – certainly I’d received bills from my neighbours with a note of the costs and paid my share. I spoke to all three of my neighbours in advance of getting the repair work done, and one of them said he’d looked up the actual legal obligation and he didn’t have to pay anything towards repairing my roof, though he would just to be a good neighbour. We discussed the repairs in a little more detail, and he emphatically agreed with me that the more expensive but better quality option was the way to go (there were two possible ways to repair, and one would have been a lot cheaper but only guaranteed for 10 years or so).

    Anyway, he didn’t pay. I handed in copies of the invoice to all three neighbours, two out of three of them paid up, he didn’t. I reminded him about it – since he had said he would pay – and he said he would if I got him another copy of the invoice. By that time I was sick of it and him and couldn’t find the old invoice and just gave up.

    You know what, I still remember that to this day? It wasn’t even a lot of money, but by damn do I bear a grudge about that, and a mental note that he is never again getting any swift cooperation from me about my share of any repair bill he incurs.

    This is not quite relevant to your situation, except that money makes grudges, and between neighbours, it’s best to avoid grudges.

    What your neighbour paid her grandkids is her problem. You don’t owe them anything.

    I like the script of “I will consult about our legal obligations since the work was carried out without our agreement and without discussing the costs in advance with me” but: if she can show a receipt for what she paid for the materials used to re-seal the driveway, then I would pay half. If she can’t show the receipt, well, that’s her problem.

    • And I have just finished reading the comments-thread which obviously I SHOULD HAVE DONE before writing this.

      I’m sorry, LW. That… I did not think of that.

      (Also sorry for mean comments about neighbour.)

      • hlwest said:

        It’s okay, really. :) Your mean comments about my neighbor weren’t any worse than the mean thoughts I was having, lol.

        I never would have thought of it, either. Hence the jumping to the conclusion that the neighbor hadn’t discussed this with us.

        I’ve scheduled a sit down talk with my husband tonight, when he gets home from work. His behavior in the days since I told him how hurt and angry I am has been… promising.

        He’s been super respectful of my space (mentally- we haven’t physicaly been in the same space since then, what with our work schedules, and I told him that I would sleep in another room for now, because damn, I was JUST. SO. MAD.), and when I finally broke radio silence after cooling down, to suggest that we talk tonight, he said he’d like that. He’s been missing me and wants to apologize for the way he screwed up and caused me so much embarrassment.

        Hopefully this can just be chalked up as an opportunity for us to look at fine tuning our relationship, which has started to deteriorate in the last year and half or so. I love him, very much, and it’s been hurting like a bad toothache in my chest to be this angry at him.

        • Anonymus Maximus said:

          Not to be that person, but is your neighbour really in the clear here? Whatwith the maiming of the rose bush, and as I understood it previously occuring rearrangement of your stuff in your yard? What about that boundarycrossing behaviour?

  40. hlwestl said:

    Hi, everyone in the Awkward Army, it’s me again.

    So, this ended up actually being one of the Best Things Ever to happen, after all the dust settled out.

    I did write back to the Captain with an update, but it occurred to me that it would probably make more sense to just post the update and outcome here since at this point I don’t really feel like I need more advice at this point.

    I was really, really upset to find out that the neighbor had talked to My Beloved before hand and he had never mentioned it to me, even after reading the letter I’d written up, etc. I told him I needed some time/space to get my thoughts in order, I was going to sleep somewhere other than our bed, and I didn’t want to see or talk to him until *I* wanted to see and talk to him.

    Guys, he was absolutely wonderful with doing exactly what I asked. And when I sent him an email to remind him of a veterinarian appt (even when I’m mad, life goes on, right?) and to say I’d like to talk when he got home Friday night, his response was perfect- “I’ll get the dog there, and yes- talking Friday night, I’d like that. I’ve really been missing you and I’d like to tell you that this was all my fault and I’m so sorry for causing you so much embarrassment.”

    He made arrangements to come home early on Friday (late enough that the spawn would be in bed, early enough so that I wouldn’t be waaaay too exhausted from being up at 4 am until nearly midnight), to talk. We had a really good talk. It was very awkward at times, but really amazing. We talked about this particular incident (which basically amounts to being a huge misunderstanding- he didn’t realize what time frame the neighbor was talking about, didn’t realize that I had NO idea about any of the conversation. He thought I was upset over the *particulars*). We talked about some other things that were really bugging me, nearly all of which we’d had a “knock it off” conversation about before, but all the dots hadn’t been connected together to make a whole picture of what needed to happen. Now we both have the whole picture, and we’re very clear where certain boundries are drawn.

    I had also been really unhappy because I thought *he* was really unhappy but didn’t want to say anything (he does have a habit of procrastination and when staying in a situation he doesn’t like is easier than making changes, he just stays anyway, so I thought maybe he wasn’t happy but thought that leaving or making other changes might be too much work). Anyway, he says he is actually quite happy, he’s just really, really tired. We’ve been working opposite shifts for 8 years now, and working the late shift is starting to wear on him more and more as time goes on.

    The end is in sight for that, though, and we’ve worked out a good time table for getting him back to the same schedule the rest of the family is on, which makes both of us much much happier.

    Also, I rarely have to call on Team Me, and I was surprised at how many people just stepped in to offer me support in the form of hugs, and sympathy without prying, and yummy things to eat, and hanging out in the sunshine with drinks, and even the number of a good therapist. There were people I didn’t even realize cared that much about me, but they were right there the whole time. It was really wonderful.

    So, anyway, thank you gusy so much for all of your advice and thoughts and suggestions. Reading this blog and all the comments on this post and on others really, really helped. You guys are completely awesome. :)

    • I checked back on this post just to see if you’d posted any more details, and I’m really glad to see that this incident, as awkward and painful as it was, has made things better between you and your husband. Thanks for the update!

    • I just checked back on this entry and was hoping you were okay. I am SO glad to hear that this turned out for the best!

    • alphakitty said:

      Yay. When you were fresh from discovering he’d known, and some of the comments were in the “DTMFA” vein, I was thinking “but she called him her Beloved at the beginning! Nooooo!” Not that people you call your beloved can’t screw up badly enough for their status to be revoked posthaste, but because I didn’t want it to be true this time. Glad the end result (which is not really an end, but part of the middle) is a happier marriage and clearer air.

      • Datdamwuf said:

        I too stopped back in because this thread was hanging out in one of my windows, so glad LW that every thing is working out better than we dreaded. now you got your hugs from your beloved :)

    • poiuyt said:

      Please consider asking your husband to get a physical, and mention to the doctor the this incident and the other “lots of little things” you mentioned above if they have any kind of similarity to this “forgetfulness” episode. I could of course be completely wrong about this, but it rings very strong alarm bells for me because of some similarities to about 10 years ago when my mother though my father was turning into a big asshole, putting her in embarrassing positions several times. My father turned out to have an aneurysm, which was found and treated. He made a complete recovery, but it could have ended very badly. Sorry to maybe frighten you, but after stumbling onto this thread a few weeks late I just got this very bad feeling from some similarities. It could of course just be fatigue as you say above, or some other, less scary, medical problem.

  41. suzymiscue said:

    For what it’s worth, I’d email/postal mail a copy of that letter/script. And before you do that, make a copy to have in your own home-ownership files. My husband being entangled in a co-parenting relationship with an ex who has custody has taught me some valuable skills that seem transferable here.
    ~Say “No”. Loudly and frequently.
    ~State clearly and without any room for interpretation that you will *not* pay for anything you didn’t agree to ahead of time, and make it clear what “ahead of time” means
    ~Make copies
    ~Send important things through the mail. Even certified if you really need to make a point.

    And yes, I’m coming from a place of dealing-with-years-of-blatant-hostility. So take what I say with a grain of salt :D…. Or a whole pile! My thought process is that this is liable to get worse, not better, and it’ll go better if you’re prepared. But hopefully my jadedness is completely wrong! Good luck!

    • suzymiscue said:

      aaaand…. I need to read to the bottom of threads! Glad this has a happy ending!

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