– St Albans, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

Neighbourly fence

The earthquakes meant our fences had to be replaced. Our loss adjuster sends a breakdown of what replacing our fence costs so that we can get permission from our neighbours to rebuild it-they have to pay half. We can have what we had, or we can both agree to have something better. Our neighbours are concerned with cost, so we just go with replacing what we had. They seem pleased we are organising it all.
I spend a lot of time on the weekends making sure that our neighbours are kept up to date with progress on our fence. I remind neighbour 1 to dig up any plants that she has on the boundary, as these will likely be damaged. I inform neighbour 2 when work is likely to start, and she says they will call to discuss fence heights etc. The landscaper is happy but makes a comment that things seem to be going almost too smoothly. Boundaries are funny things – neighbours always have different ideas about what is right. I am confident that our discussions with the neighbours over the past months have made sure everyone knows how things are going. Neighbour 1 has been very specific and clear about instruction. Neighbour 2 has been completely relaxed.

Neighbour 2 has recently moved out so that their home can be demolished. They have bought another home and are living on the other side of town. They are planning to rebuild and are in discussions with their builder.

I pop around to see the fencer on Wednesday, and neighbour1’s fence is almost done. They are waiting for concrete for the posts for neighbour 2. I point at the rails to which the palings are attached.

“That’s quite high, and we haven’t re-confirmed the height with our neighbours yet” I say.
“We won’t get onto that yet as we are waiting for concrete. Probably next week” the fencer said.
“And the posts get cut down too.” I said. They were about 2.5m high.
“Yes” he said.
“We’ll get in touch with our neighbours this weekend. We couldn’t get a meeting last weekend as he has been ill”.

Neighbour 2 turns up at our rental property on Thursday night smoking at the ears. The fencer has put up palings to a height he does not like. He tells my husband that I’m at fault for pulling a fast one on him and putting up too high a fence. When I come home at that evening he says “You are in trouble”.
It is always good to have support from your husband.

Neighbour 2 is going around to tear a strip of the fencer on Friday. I text the site foreman. It is after 8pm but he kindly responds. I text Neighbour 2 to let them know that we can meet with the site foreman Friday morning, and ask for a time. Our neighbour is having none of it. He is going around when he feels like it to rip out the fencer. I text the site foreman to let him know what to expect.

On Friday, the fencer removes all of the palings he has put up, and lowers the rails in one section about 0.1m. I call our site foreman and have a chat. He sounds very weary. He says they deal with this sort of thing all of the time.

On Saturday our neighbour texts us to meet at our homes. Neighbour 2 is very angry with me. He tells me not to stand close to him as he may not be responsible for his behaviour.

“We have negotiated with our insurer that they will pay for the entire front 12m of part of our fence, and that you will share costs with us for half of the rest” I said. “As our home is 0.3m higher, we have also negotiated that they will cover our shared costs of between a standard 1.8m and a 2.1m fence if we want it. We arranged this as we know there is a trade-off between privacy and sun. As both of ours home are within 2m of our shared boundary, a higher fence over parts of it may make no difference to your sun, but a lot of difference to your privacy. I have e-mailed you everything we know about the fence construction and called several times. Our site foreman has been very accommodating when there have been mistakes made. We are in the same position as you and need to come to an agreement about fence heights. We tried to meet with you last weekend but you were sick”.

“I’m still sick” he said. He then gave a very long explanation about the standard of all of the landscaping around our home and what needs to happen. His wife slowly walked away. He tells us neighbour 1 is upset with the fencer too. He wants to take matters into his own hands and as I obviously have no control over the contractor he will cancel the contract and organise another contractor.

We are unaware of any issues with neighbour 1 and ask what is going on. He refuses to say. My husband gives me a look.

Our neighbour tells us all about the height of the fence and consents required over 2m, and if there is a consent he will cancel it and not pay for it.
“We don’t need a consent.” I say. “you can have a fence up to 2.1m as we have agreed, but we are happy if you now want it lower”.
“You will and we won’t pay” he says.

Eventually he starts to talk himself around.
“The fencer is just a fencer. They have done a good job, and he works like a demon. Whatever the fence height is either of us could plant above it” he said.
He and Terry go off to talk technical stuff, and his wife comes over to chat.
“One of the hardest things we have found is having things happen that we did not expect” I said. “What we wanted is just to have everything back the way that it was”.
“I’ve hardly slept at all this past week” she said.
“I think I’ve been averaging 4 hours sleep a night since our first builder lifted our home” I said.
“We can’t get a price from our builder as we need to make decisions about taps and kitchens and bathrooms” she said. “I’m not going to make those decisions.”
“There are a million decisions” I said. “It is emotionally and physically exhausting. I have spent 2 days a week for the past year making those decisions. It’s hard to do when you work full time”.
“We procrastinate” she said.

“It was handy for us to have designers to give advice when we couldn’t make decisions about things like taps and kitchen layout” I said. “As far as the technical stuff goes, like levels and paling heights, I wouldn’t have a clue. We just trust the experts”.
“Why does it have to be so hard?” she said.
We think for a bit.

“We have arranged a meeting on Monday morning with the site foreman if you want to be there. We can arrange a time that suits.” I say.
The others come back. We still have to decide on fence heights. The fencer has put up a straw poll both sides of the fence with a smiley face and a tick box. I have brought a marker pen just in case.
“Are you ok with this height?” I said. The fence palings are 2m from the ground.
“Yes” he said.
“Are you ok with the gate post height?” I asked. It is 1.8m.
“Yes” he said.

“What about the height of the front 12m?” I ask. “It’s much lower – only 1m”.
“I don’t know” his wife said.
By law we do not have to discuss the front 12m with our neighbours as they are not contributing payment.
He says nothing but the smoke is rising from his ears again.
If he will not come up with a solution, he could at least be civil. People make mistakes. Even him.
“The site foreman would like a decision about the heights by Monday, so that he can get the fencer working again” I said.
“Well he should have got agreement before hand” he said, still angry.
“That’s why we’re here” I repeated. “Before he starts. The site foreman is happy to meet with us all on Monday at a time before work in the morning” I say.
“I can’t make it.” he said, getting angrier.
“We’ll leave you to have a think about the heights” my husband said, ever the relaxed one.
“Just mark where you would like it” I said.
“We’ll let you know by Monday” he said, and we leave.

I can understand his anger. It is a reaction to too much change. I can in his tone hear myself speaking to our project manager or builder in the same way. How do they cope?

I text the foreman a range of times for Monday. I e-mail neighbour 2 notes from our discussion and invite them again to the meeting. They e-mail back that the heights are fine as long as the 2m is measured from their side.

I go and see neighbour 1. There are no major issues. I invite her to the Monday morning meeting. She is fine with that.

We go over on Sunday, and help her move granite rocks that once formed our joint retaining wall. We agreed to pay for the entire new retaining wall, as she told us her house and new insurance is a strain on a fixed retirement income, and she has to borrow money from her sister for the fence.

Neighbour 2 is packing up things, and cutting down trees on our boundary. He comes over to us, and I slide away. I have learned a thing or two from his wife. With my husband he is friendly and civil. He tells him that his wife says the front fence height is fine. The fencer can carry on.

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