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:
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!