Good neighbors make good neighbors
A lot of people have now read about the property dispute in Dover-Foxcroft that led to a man sawing his neighbor’s garage in half. The Daily Mail, a British paper, picked up the story. It popped up on the Drudge Report. For much of the past week and a half, it remained on the list of most read stories on the Bangor Daily News website.
There’s no doubt it’s an eye-grabbing story. It’s also a bit of a head scratcher.
Call us cautious, but as a general rule, it’s probably a good idea to take property disputes to court rather than take out a saw.
The public doesn’t currently have all of the necessary information to know who legally is right and who is wrong in this specific fight over a property line. We do know enough, however, to suggest that if someone wants to settle a dispute with a neighbor — even an increasingly nasty one — cutting their physical property in half likely isn’t going to be the best or final step toward resolution.
This situation in Dover-Foxcroft certainly doesn’t sound pleasant, and the frustration and desire to protect private property rights is understandable. But before more people go out and cut apart disputed property, please remember that there are laws and processes in place, and it’s not always a simple matter of where a survey (or even multiple surveys) determines a property line to be.
Take, for example, Maine statute on adverse possession. Even if someone doesn’t own a piece of property, they may be able to gain access to it through 20 years of uninterrupted use.
Again, we don’t have enough information to know if that’s in play as part of the now half-door garage in Dover-Foxcroft. But complexities like this make a case for repeatedly turning to the law, and not breaking out a saw.
It’s not always going to be possible, but surely the best course of action in these kinds of disputes will typically be to reach some sort of agreement neighbor to neighbor. And now amid a global pandemic that requires us to come together by staying physically apart, that appeal to neighborly cooperation is as important as ever.
One of the property owners in the garage story evoked an old saying, linked to a Robert Frost poem, about good fences making good neighbors. At a time that requires people and their communities to work together, we’d suggest that above all, it’s good neighbors that make good neighbors.
It’s a two-way street, but now more than ever, neighbors should be going out of their way to exhaust all possible chances for cooperation. It’s easier said than done, but the times we are living in demand it.