When neighbour disputes go too far

Two families have been in disputes for five years that have led to calling police

Two houses on each side of the photo, with a fence door to the left house's backyard in the middle.
Side-by-side houses in East York are homes to neighbours who have been fighting for five years. Sergio Arangio/Toronto Observer

Longstanding animosity between the Meaneys and the Carpenters on Woodmount Avenue really boiled over when Drake Carpenter called the police on neighbour Paula Meaney for allegedly kicking him in the shin.

Meaney says she was about to walk her dog when Carpenter shouted at her and kicked her dog, prompting a kick from her in return. Carpenter remembers the event differently, saying Meaney’s dog peed on his shoe, so he stomped his foot on the ground to startle him.

That was just one tense incident in a five-year battle between neighbours.

Keiron Meaney and his wife Paula Cameron sit in their living room with their dog Benny.

Keiron Meaney and his wife Paula have had numerous battles with their neighbours, the Carpenters, since the latter couple moved in five years ago.  (Sergio Arangio/Toronto Observer)

The Meaneys, who have lived in their East York home for almost 20 years, say their issues began shortly after the Carpenters moved next door five years ago. The fighting started with noise complaints, then progressed to a dispute over a fence covering the right of way being ripped out by their neighbour, and then to an argument over the Meaneys supposedly digging into the Carpenters’ house foundation to build a garden.

Now, the two neighbours are involved in an issue over arborists hired by the Carpenters using the Meaneys’ backyard garage roof to trim surrounding trees without their permission.

It was trespassing, says Keiron Meaney, who had run home from his job as a chef to deal with the situation. “If you have a right of way … the right of way is over there, it isn’t on our roof.”

Meaney said while he and his wife Paula are typically friendly with their neighbours, the Carpenters are an exception. Thousands of dollars have been spent between the two parties in their disputes. While the issues are frustrating on their own, Meaney said these disputes might be easier to handle were it not for Drake Carpenter.

“He comes on my property, he’s [hurt] my dog … I don’t want this guy anywhere on my property.”

Carpenter said the Meaneys can’t be reasoned with and seem to feel they have a constant right to meddle with property that’s not theirs.

A narrow pathway between two houses, with a rence on one side of the path, and another fence door at the back.

This narrow right of way has been a major source of the disputes between the two neighbours. (Sergio Arangio/Toronto Observer)

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Warren Morris, a mediator based in East York, has a technique he often uses with two parties in a dispute to help each side see the other’s point of view. The exercise has each side try to articulate the other’s feelings about the issue.

“Once each party feels heard, it de-escalates the emotional vigour,” Morris said. “The other side doesn’t seem as evil when you hear them actually articulating your side of the story.”

The problem in the case of neighbours like the Meaneys and the Carpenters, however, is the fact that neither side wants anything to do with the other in terms of finding common ground.

Often times, Morris said, it can be extremely difficult to come back from such a history of neighbourly dysfunction. That’s why it’s important to develop a friendly relationship from the beginning, he said, so that any disagreements can be handled from a place of familiarity rather than only acknowledging a neighbour’s existence when an issue arises.

The majority of the issues, the Meaneys admit, stem from a lack of knowledge on their part of the rules surrounding a right of way. Keiron Meaney says the sometimes meticulous laws around shared space between neighbours can be confusing to navigate.

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Toronto-based litigation lawyer Jared Brown defines a right of way as a registered legal agreement between neighbours to use a property owner’s land for a certain purpose that the two parties agree to. The most typical use of a right of way is as a means to travel behind the properties (to a detached garage, for example), but the particular terms of any easement must be agreed to and registered with the land through a lawyer.

If a legal agreement is already in place from a previous property owner, current neighbours can renegotiate the terms if they so choose.  

Jared Brown explains some of the intricacies nestled in right of way law.

What the two neighbours can’t do, however, is do anything that negatively impacts the other neighbour’s enjoyment or use of their property. That includes anything from shovelling snow onto a neighbour’s property without permission to erecting a fence that crosses the property line.

The one point the Meaneys and Carpenters can agree on is that there’s no longer any potential for a relationship. Keiron Meaney said he will tolerate Drake Carpenter as long as he, as someone whose name is apparently not on the deed to his residence, stays off his property.

“We’ve never done a single thing [to them],” Keiron said. “We’re good people. They couldn’t ask for better neighbours.”

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Posted: Oct 3 2018 11:02 am
Filed under: News