Short Take: Neighbors, Canadian Style

For years, one of my pro bono activities was serving as a small claims court arbitrator in Manhattan civil court. It was, to be frank, illuminating. While the breadth of claims was, well, breathtaking, there were certain claims that were exceptionally common. The “bad haircut” cases, the “security deposit refund” cases and the nastiest of all, the “neighbor” cases.

It’s good to know neighbors aren’t just awful in New York City, but in Ontario, Canada, as well.

In what is perhaps the piece de resistance of the claim, the Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants – again focusing primarily on Ms. Taerk – sometimes stand in their own driveway or elsewhere on their property and look at the Plaintiffs’ house. One of the video exhibits shows Ms. Taerk doing just that, casting her gaze from her own property across the street and resting her eyes on the Plaintiffs’ abode for a full 25 seconds. There is no denying that Ms. Taerk is guilty as charged. The camera doesn’t lie.

The things that evoke outrage are often unique. But the judge, after a brief but exceptionally funny opinion, gets to the bottom line.

In my view, the parties do not need a judge; what they need is a rather stern kindergarten teacher. I say this with the greatest of respect, as both the Plaintiffs and the Defendants are educated professionals who are successful in their work lives and are otherwise productive members of the community. Despite their many advantages in life, however, they are acting like children.

The judge thereupon trashes all claims, and adds this final spanking to the order.

There will be no costs order. Each side deserves to bear its own costs.

Indeed, each sides deserves to bear more than their own costs, but the cost of the court wasted on their neighborly hatred.

Except there remains a point that is easily missed in the scheme of this hysterical benchslap, that the neighbors will leave court no better off than they arrived. No matter how ridiculous their complaints of each other, the War will continue and neighbors will be miserable, smug in their righteousness of their own offense and outraged at their neighbor’s failure to disappear from the face of the earth.

This being such a common cause in my arbitration, the fact that the claims may have been legally unrecognizable wasn’t the end of my efforts. My usual tact was to separate the warring factions and give them a talk about squandering their lives in anger over crap, and simultaneously rationalizing why they’re behaving like offensive assholes.

As Justice E.M. Morgan observed, they didn’t need a judge but a stern kindergarten teacher. But simply saying this doesn’t do the trick. Someone needs to be that stern teacher, to grab them by the scruff of the neck and tell them that they’re suffering a life of misery of their own making, and it will only get worse.

It is, without a doubt, a nightmare to have horrible neighbors, and some are, without a doubt, horrible. Whether the talk worked was never clear, as there was no way for me to follow up a month, a year, later. But at least I tried to make people’s lives a little less pointlessly awful, even if it didn’t involve a positive, supportive tummy rub from a empathetic arbitrator.

Whether this suffices in Canada, I don’t know, eh?

26 thoughts on “Short Take: Neighbors, Canadian Style

  1. Black Bellamy

    It is the ruling of this court that Mrs. Taerk be removed from this place by The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and taken to New York City, where she will board the 2 train, heading uptown.

    Staring problem solved. Pithy Post headline incoming.

      1. Morgan O.

        No. No. No. NO! We’ve apologized for Justin Bieber, and frankly you should be honoured that we gave you Céline. We provide you humourous and talented people. Please keep your troglodytes to yourselves.

  2. kushiro

    It’s gonna be hard for me to not take the comments on this one personally.

    The only consolation is that it’s nice to see that people in Forest Hill are miserable, and that the world might eventually stop believing that everyone up here is meek and polite. We’ve got our fair share of assholes, too.

      1. kushiro

        Empirical observation: some of the most obnoxious people I have met while travelling have been fellow Canadians proudly displaying the maple leaf on their clothing/luggage and loudly declaring that they are not Americans.

        1. SHG Post author

          You realize most of them are Americans pretending to be Canadians so the French don’t charge them double, right?

          1. kushiro

            Most of my travels are in Asia and Oceania, so I have no experience with that. The ones I have met have known way too much about hockey and the Tragically Hip to be faking it. Also, they could name the Prime Minister of Canada (and this is before Justin Trudeau!)

  3. ShootingHipster

    I have a theory that people who behave this way have never been in a fist fight, so maybe a good slap ought to work. This reminded me of an experience I had.
    Five years ago my city was hit with the flood of the century, possibly the millennium. A close friend of my dad whose home was at the epicenter of the flooding suffered a medical condition related to the stress of witnessing flood waters rush six inches above the kitchen countertops. They lost nearly everything in their home. Like many of the people in my city I set my job aside to volunteer in the recovery. I spent ten days in and around that house working to the bone, managing the hordes of volunteers that came to help, and advising neighbours on what actions to take to preserve the structure of their homes (several homes on that street had to be torn down). Roll off waste bins were in short supply and filled up fast and we were running out of places to pile up all the debris. I figured if we could separate the metal into its own pile, the scrappers would come take it away. So I designated an area as a metal pile in a vacant space between the house I was working on and the home next door. Volunteers moved steel pipe, steel studs, copper wire, appliancs, etc. from most the homes on that street to this location, and within a day the pile was six feet high and thirty feet long. And sure enough, overnight the pile of metal was gone. So we continued to pile metal there, and each morning it would be gone. Then came the letter. The folks next door didn’t appreciate us using that space and had their lawyer send a letter, hand delivered IIRC, to the family I was helping. The letter instructed us to stop piling debris at that location, as it was adjacent to their property, and that we were to cease parking on the street adjacent to their property. It puzzled me that they would resort to this when at all times during the day there were people on both sites. Why not just have one of your people walk over and talk with one of our people, was that too hard? This family had enough stress already. The husband was still in the hospital, and the folks who sent the letter were aware of this. They didn’t want any further stress, and asked me to find an alternate location. There was no other good location, so instead I went next door and found the guy who was running things. I introduced myself and explained why we were piling the metal there. We had a system that was working. He told me that they were concerned that if the metal was piled there and the street was crowded with parked cars, when one of their trucks showed up to deliver a roll off bin they’d have nowhere to put it. So I agreed to barricade a space on the street and park my truck next to it and told him where I’d stash the key so he could move it if he couldn’t find me, and that I’d take measures to keep the pile of metal on the publicly owned side of the sidewalk. I told him about my area of expertise and that if he had any questions I’d be happy to help. We shook hands and everyone was happy. Imagine if the Morland-Jones’ and Taerks made the effort to talk to each other about their concerns early on.

    1. SHG Post author

      Personal anecdotes are severely frowned upon here. But then, who else could possibly have a personal story to tell about neighbors?

  4. Jim Tyre

    For years, one of my pro bono activities was serving as a small claims court arbitrator in Manhattan civil court.

    If only you had been better at it, you cold have been Judge Judy. Instead, we’re stuck with SJ.

  5. Jim Majkowski

    “But simply saying this doesn’t do the trick. Someone needs to be that stern teacher, to grab them by the scruff of the neck and tell them that they’re suffering a life of misery of their own making, and it will only get worse.”

    I demur. As Robert Jackson famously said, admittedly in a slightly different context, ” [a]nd those who need to be told would not understand it anyway.”

    1. SHG Post author

      Some will never understand, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try. Sometimes, a good smack does wonders.

    2. LocoYokel

      I’m fine with her making her life miserable, that’s her choice. But dragging the kids down into her shithole when they have no way to refuse or defend themselves is not ok.

  6. Ken

    The banes of my existence are shared driveways which are far too common in the mountains. “He was within 500 feet of my trailer.” – “Isn’t the only way he can get to his house is by that driveway?” – “I got a protective order. He can’t come within 500 feet of me or my trailer.” – “But, you’ve got him landlocked. That’s the only way in.” – “I’ve got a protective order. He can’t come within 500 feet.” Lather. Rinse. Repeat. (with infinite variations on the theme)

    1. SHG Post author

      Heh. The neighbor’s out there with his yard stick measuring the tire marks and taking pics for evidence. I don’t envy you.

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