A little land war
September 27, 2005
Shortly after I moved into my little mining shack in 1972, the bulldozers were at work on the property next door, ripping down the existing cabin and replacing it with a multicolored, pseudo-Victorian edifice called, apparently without shame, the Cooper Avenue Victorian Condominiums.Having noticed a number of little survey flags midway into my driveway, I ran to my real estate agent (Roy Vroom), who said not to worry, that three-foot strip of land was mine because my fence had been in place since at least the ’50s. I took his advice and didn’t worry about it, a path I do not encourage you to follow if you are in a similar situation. What I should have done was hie my butt to a lawyer and file a claim for adverse possession, the law that makes my fence (now having been in place for more than 50 years) my official property line.I was brought to this realization when I woke up one morning last summer to find the bulldozers busily engaged in clearing the land for the erection of an octagonal addition to the nearest condominium, right up against my backyard garden, which abuts the fence. I dashed over to City Hall, only to find that the building department does not take into consideration fences on the plat maps – the issue, it turns out, is a civil matter between me and my neighbor. Until I get official title to the land, my neighbor doesn’t have to get a variance to get around the set-back rules.Knowing that I had been had on this technicality, I bit the bullet and endured a summer of construction whacking and banging as this thing grew up in my back yard, but I also took the precaution of enlisting John Case to file suit for adverse possession to prevent further expansion. That was over a year ago.This was supposedly a cut-and-dried case, but it was not. Months passed as the condominium owners’ lawyers argued about who should be named in the suit, papers were filed and refiled, and when it came down to summonses to force the matter to adjudication, the neighbor in question was mysteriously absent when the server knocked at his door. (Note to servers: instead of your identifying authoritative rap, knock gently as if you were a visiting friend. Say, “Candygram,” or something, instead of BANG BANG BANG.)So it stood until a couple of weeks ago when I heard the scrape of shovels under my bedroom window. Off to the building department, where I discovered that my neighbor was in the process of building another and much bigger addition to his condominium on the very strip of land that was under contention.I know that often one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, but it seems to me that there should be some method of flagging land boundaries that are in legal dispute. I didn’t know that summonses could just be ignored and that building permits could be issued in August of 2005 for an extension onto the land that had been in litigation for a year.Now we’re into restraining orders and an escalation where, in addition to the visual impact of the thing, significant property values are involved: My neighbor’s value will increase commensurate with his usurping square footage, and mine will decrease with the encroachment. What began as an octagon in my garden is turning into a little war. I never wanted war, but hey, I’m not one to run from a fight, either.Su Lum is a longtime local who will stand her ground. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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