After getting the notice that Dad’s next door neighbor was requesting a variance to construct a huge addition, just 10 inches from the property line, I went lawyer shopping. We needed to challenge this monstrosity.
I reached Lawyer 1 on the first phone call. Most of her discussion concerned how much of a retainer we should send her. (Retainer: essentially a deposit to guarantee you’ll pay up.) As to the merits of our case, her comment was:
There are some soft spots in the law.
I wanted more substance–a hint of how she would challenge the variance.
I never spoke with Lawyer 2. When I phoned his office, I gave my name to his receptionist when asked. I could see her eyebrows go up and her mouth pucker, and she said,
Will he know what you are calling about?
Well, no. I haven’t talked to him before, but I’ve been referred to him regarding a land use problem.
Well, you should make an appointment to come in and talk to him.
I didn’t even bother telling her I lived 800 miles away. I will not deal with any attorney who won’t talk to you unless the meter is running.
Lawyer 3’s last name had a reassuring ring. It’s the surname of the sheriff in my dad’s home town. And talking to him somehow gave me hope. I’d characterize this guy as an empowering attorney. He wasn’t available to attend the hearing, but he gave me a 5-minute crash course in how to approach making my own statement. He emailed me some material. But I cannot attend the hearing, so we really need an attorney.
Lawyer 4 I finally connected with towards the end of the day. He was also unavailable for the hearing. By this point I was getting desperate. I asked him,
Who would you use if you were in my situation?
That got him thinking, and after pondering three of his colleagues, he hit on the right person.
I phoned him — Lawyer 5 — immediately, but got a strange voicemail system that gave me the impression he was vacationing in Borneo or Mount Everest — somewhere really, really remote. I left a message without much hope. The next morning I waited but he did not call. I had decided I would need to use Lawyer 1 after all, but decided to call once again. That’s when I reached him. He willingly talked about the case at some length, decided he or a colleague could handle it, and got the ball rolling right then and there.
To be continued.
Today I decided to see if the mayor’s office could get the utilities department to stop billing us for water, sewer and garbage we aren’t using.
Let’s hear it for Google.
I found an online city directory and phoned a number belonging to who seemed like an ombudsman for “District 1 and 2.” I have no idea which district my father’s house is in, but since it’s close to downtown, I went with this one.
The person on the other end of the phone was great – sympathetic and asked all the right questions. She transferred me to the Director’s office at the public utility. The woman who answered was once again sympathetic and helpful. She asked me to forward my original email from last October asking them to stop garbage service.
It sounds like we will get a refund for all the months we weren’t setting out trash.
That’s the step forward.
Around noon after two phone calls and an email, I got a call back from the city’s planning office about the neighbor’s proposed non-conforming addition. Bottom line is that it doesn’t look like there is much we can do as the planning office is recommending approval of the request, and the hearing examiner is the head of the planning department! Why bother with a hearing?!?
This is an area of town where old homes sit at the very edge of the property line. The neighbor’s house has a particularly narrow lot and is also 6′ lower than my dad’s property. So dad’s back yard will end up looking onto the neighbor’s roof.
Ka-ching! That’s the sound of money being washed down the drain as the house’s value declines.
Two steps back.
Next: making an appointment with a property manager and going ahead with plans to rent.
I was relaxing with a book after a busy day of shopping, errands and parade-watching*. Husband walked into the room holding an envelope, saying:
He’s still at it!
The envelope held a notice of a meeting of the City Planning Division in Dad’s former city. The agenda indicates that Dad’s former next-door neighbor is requesting a “special exception for an inline addition.”
The hearing is set for less than two weeks away. On a day we won’t be there.
The neighbor tried a few months ago to get us to sign a form giving him permission to build this addition. Problem is, he couldn’t seem to manage to email or fax the plans to us. He finally admitted the new addition would have 16-foot ceilings.
This would cast a shadow over my dad’s former backyard strawberry bed as well as block the lovely wintertime views of mountains and downtown.
And it’s not legal without a “special exception.”
The neighbor, who lived next door to Dad and Jean for many years, knows we are having difficulty selling the house, knows Dad needs the income from the house sale, and knows his design will negatively impact the value of the house, yet is proceeding anyway.
One more day – one more mini-crisis.
*The local high school marching band in full costume parades through the neighborhood once a year, complete with majorettes, an entourage of moms & dads, and bicycle cops blocking the leafy streets. Too much fun!
My goal for today was to try to stop the monetary bleeding from this albatross house. Okay, totally unfair. It’s not an albatross. The economy is the albatross.
To that effect, Job One for today was to see how my dad can stop paying for water, sewer and garbage that he’s not using, and hasn’t used since he moved out of his home on October 23.
I had called the city water utility in October, and the kindly person on the other end of the line told me to send an email in order to get the garbage canceled. My October 30 email was never answered. I continued to pay my dad’s bills thinking the house would sell quickly. It didn’t. Now, seven months later, I am once again knocking on the door, so to speak, of the city bureaucracy to get them to act.
It just bothers me to pay $18 a month for absolutely nothing.
So far today: nada.
My phone call was quickly answered, but the receptionist was a terse communicator, and I could glean only bits of what may have transpired.
“They went out in February, and somebody was living there.”
She transferred me to a bureaucrat’s voicemail. He never phoned back.
The phone in my office rang early in the morning. It was Dad. He must be calling about Jean, I thought, who was in the hospital following cancer surgery. Indeed he was, but it wasn’t news I wanted.
“Jean died this morning.”
Just like that, my elderly father lost his companion of twenty years, a high school friend with whom he reconnected later in life. She was a bright light in his world following my mother’s death. Now Jean is gone, too.
In an instant my life changed.
I have an elderly parent who needs help.
And I have an old house to sell.