Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Fought the Law. . .

OK--here's # 97.

We have lived in our house since 1980. My son and I actually found this house when we took a bike ride one day (from our old neighborhood). We cycled into this neighborhood which was just being built. The houses had been built on speculation as the 1970s wound down--and here they sat. A down time in house sales (hmmmm--this has a sense of deja vu).

Anyway, there were just a dozen homes that had been built by a partnership between a real estate guy and a local builder. Among the features of the neighborhood that attracted us was an open space that was set to become a small park. We liked the thought of a small park where kids could play.

We moved in during the fall of 1980, had a swimming pool built in the spring of 1981, and our daughter was born in the fall of 1981. NO no, there is no attempt to suggest any causal relationship here, just a bit of chronology. About half the houses were occupied, and over time the other houses were eventually sold. Soon, the remaining lots were sold and houses built.

In the meantime, the partnership between real estate guy and local builder went sour. They broke up their partnership, each taking some of the remaining lots. This detail will feature in the story of how we all got sued.

Also, in the meantime, the township where we live was no longer interested in small parks. So the guy who owned the empty lots destined to be the small park decided he could build more houses there. BUT--wait--the property deeds of those of us who were original buyers referenced the small park. What to do? What to do? Now, if I were that business man, I would have gone around to each neighbor, explained the situation, offered a small cash sum, and said--please could you sign to release any claim you might have on this land you don't really own. Would have been simple. Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

But no! Being a tough business man, he decided to file a "quit claim" deed on each of us. Now, even that might have been fine, had he come to us and asked us to sign. Instead--this tough business man had the deputy sheriff come to our door (actually to all of our doors) with the quit claim deed in hand, serving us.

Now, my husband and I didn't blink--we were savvy enough to understand what this action meant--and we had attorney friends who could help us understand. But not all the neighbors were so savvy. One neighbor even thought he was going to lose his home.

CLICK--that got my Irish up. . .and I'm not even Irish.

Not everyone in the neighborhood had been sued. Only those home owners whose original deeds referred to the small park got sued. So, I walked around to all of those named, and invited them to our house for a meeting. Then, an attorney who my husband knew through his work came and met with us. He gave us the option of retaining him on a contingency fee basis and proposed that we counter-sue. Our counter-suit said--we will gladly quit any claim we have on the small park land, in exchange for some money, since we all must have paid something for it when we bought our property.

Then things got messy. The real estate guy said--well, you all must be a neighborhood association, and since you want this small park, I will charge you a fee to maintain it. So, after that letter went out to everyone, I rushed around and said--DON'T PAY THE FEE. There is no neighborhood association--he's just trying to jerk us around.

Then several years of silence ensued. No answer from the real estate guy on the counter-claim. But, just as we all thought this issue had gone away, a new letter came. This letter contained a dollar, and a form to sign. The form was essentially a repeat of the quit claim. Any neighbor who accepted the dollar and signed the form would be DROPPED from his original suit. (HUH?) So again, I rushed around and said--if you sign this form then you won't get any financial settlement beyond the $1. I think one guy signed--he was tired of the haggling.

Then a few more months of silence.

And then finally an offer. The real estate guy said--he would award each of us $1,000 if we would sign the quit claim deeds. DONE and done. We all signed our quit claim deeds, got our checks. The attorney got his small contingency fee (believe me, it was small). And I had the satisfaction of saying--I fought the law. . .and I won.

10 comments:

Liza Lee Miller said...

Fighting the good fight. Real estate can bring out the worst in some people. Glad it brought out the good in you. Reminds me of when a landlord decided to treat us badly when we moved out of a rental in college. We didn't buy it and took her to small claims court. The day we were due in court, her husband drove up and handed my husband a check for the amount of the deposit. Yippee. We won too. Winning feels good . . . especially when you are right!

Ruth said...

Good for you for leading the neighbourhood fight. I know little about matters like this and would have had to rely on someone like you and your husband for guidance. I don't think that would have happened in our city. The city controls green spaces and parks have to be included in plans for residential development. A developer would have to apply the city for re-zoning.

Lynne said...

I'm always amazed at how people often chose to take the tough route when a simple honest approach by the real estate man would have prevented all of that.

Beverly said...

Your neighbors were very fortunate to have you lead them in their fight. I would have been very grateful to have on my side.

Anvilcloud said...

I'm lad you knew (via friends) enough to know better and to provide guidance.

NCmountainwoman said...

I'm always glad to hear about people refusing to bend to a "powerful" contractor. Kudos to you and the neighbors.

Ginnie said...

You sound like my daughter...who my sons call "the force" !! I don't have the backbone to tough it out...good for you.

Climenheise said...

It would be interesting to hear the same story as told by the contractor. I honestly don't know why, once he knew this was a problem, he didn't just ask: What do you want? I suppose we have been socialized to use force first and negotiate afterwards. Good for you for standing fast. No surprise though!

JeanMac said...

Way to go!!!

Mary said...

What a sticky mess. I'm glad you won... The combination real estate, contractors, associations can be lethal. My husband was co-president of an association once. Never again!

Those who are tenacious and resourceful can win a battle like that one. Thanks to you.