Fences make good neighbors

Background

Betty and Barney live next door to Wilma and Fred. An aging cedar fence separates their backyards. Over the past two or three years, Barney and Fred have discussed replacing the fence, but put off doing so until the fence began falling apart. ‘

Barney assumed Fred would share in the cost of replacing the fence.

On a summer day in July, Barney’s 15-year-old son and his friends were kicking a soccer ball back and forth in their back yard. The soccer ball hit the fence and an entire six-foot panel fell down. When Barney examined the downed fence, he saw the posts had rotted.

When Fred got home, Barney went to talk to him about the fence. Fred agreed the posts were rotted, but was angry that Barney’s son had knocked down part of the fence.

The next day, Barney went to Fred’s house to discuss replacing the fence. Fred told Barney he expects Barney to replace the fence because his son knocked it down. Fred denied that he and Barney had ever agreed to share the cost to replace the fence.

When Barney tried to reason with Fred, Fred got angry, called Barney a liar and ordered him out of his house.

The following day, Wilma and Betty met for lunch to discuss the situation between their husbands and the fence.

Wilma and Betty agree they should share the cost to replace the fence, but are more concerned about the estrangement between their husbands.

The Flints and the Rudds are more than neighbors; they are close friends. They bowl together and spend holidays and vacations together.

Betty and Wilma, who read this column, decide to persuade their husbands to have their dispute submitted and to be bound by my decision.

Discussion

I met with the Barney, Wilma and their son Bobby in their home.

Barney started by venting his anger against Fred for calling him a liar and kicking him out of his house. Barney says he is going to sell their house to get away from Fred. Bobby is angry with his father because he doesn’t want to move and says he can’t believe such a big deal is being made about the old fence.

Betty is quietly crying.

After his outburst, Barney calmed down, giving me a chance to ask him some questions. I first ask Barney if the fence will have to be repaired or replaced before he lists the house for sale. Barney agrees it will. I ask him if it is better to repair or replace the fence. Barney believes it should be replaced because the posts have rotted. I ask him how much it would cost.

Barney thinks if he and Bobby work together, they can rebuild the fence in a couple of days. The materials would cost about $1,500.

I then met with Wilma and Fred Flint. I ask Fred what he thinks should be done about the fence. Fred, cursing, says Barney and his no-good son should fix it.

I ask Fred if the fence should be repaired or replaced. Fred says he doesn’t care because he is selling his house. He will not be Barney Rudd’s neighbor.

Wilma is sitting quietly shaking her head. I ask Fred if the fence will have to be replaced or repaired before his house is listed for sale. Fred tells me any idiot can see the posts are rotted so it has to be replaced.

I ask Fred if it is Bobby’s fault that the fence posts are rotted. Fred adamantly tells me, “of course not!”

I tell Fred that the Rudds are also going to sell their house and that Barney agrees the fence has to be replaced before their house is listed for sale.

Fred says the Rudds can’t move because he and Wilma are moving!

I ask Fred if he has anything else he wants me to know. He does not.

I ask Wilma if she has anything to say. She says she is not moving and tells Fred he has to apologize to Barney for calling him a liar and kicking him out of their house. Fred grunts in agreement.

I ask Fred if he is willing to pay for half of the materials to replace the fence. Fred says he is, on the condition that he is the one to choose the materials.

I ask Fred if he is willing to help Barney and Bobby rebuild the fence. Fred says he might but might not.

Decision

The Flints and the Rudds agree the fence needs to be replaced. But first, apologies are in order. Bobby should apologize to his parents and to the Flints for kicking a ball so hard it knocked part of the fence down. Bobby should work side by side with his father and Fred (if Fred helps) to replace the fence. Fred should apologize to Barney for calling him a liar and kicking him out of the house. Barney should accept the apology and shake hands with Fred.

Fred should choose the new fencing materials and arrange for the materials to be delivered. Before the materials are delivered, Barney should have a chance to approve Fred’s choice. If Barney does not approve, Fred must listen to Barney’s comments and make a different selection. If

Fred doesn’t help rebuild the fence he should pay two-thirds of the cost of the materials. If

Fred helps rebuild the fence he should pay for half of the cost of the materials.

Mediator Notes

I obviously changed the names of the folks involved in this dispute. You may be interested to know that Fred, Barney and Bobby worked together to rebuild the fence and their friendship has been restored. Neither home was listed for sale.

If you have a dispute you would like me to consider in this column contact me at: 800-994-6000 or [email protected]. You can also check out my website at: www.krisrogers.com