With its 39 miles of coastline, its freshwater beaches and its lush, Southern New England landscape, life in the peaceful town of Warwick, R.I., might seem to be nothing short of heavenly. But it's turned out to be hell for Craig Fontaine and Kathleen Melker.
It's not that the couple doesn't live well in their cozy, two-bedroom waterfront home on Warwick Cove. The problem is their "nightmare neighbors," Lynne Taylor and Christopher Levasseur, whom Fontaine and Melker say have been harassing and attacking them for more than a year -- and in very odd ways.
According to police reports filed by Fontaine and Melker (pictured at left), Taylor and Levasseur shot at the couple's home and damaged their car and kayak with an air pellet gun in August and September 2011. Another police report claims that Taylor tried to kill their cat by trapping it in a vehicle on an extremely hot day. (Fontaine and Melker videotaped the cat incident and posted it on YouTube.)
But the most bizarre complaint alleges that Taylor flipped them the bird -- literally. The report claims Taylor trained her pet cockatoo to repeatedly scream obscenities at Melker and Fontaine.
"For over sixteen hours a day, the cockatoo will scream 'f--king whore!' [Taylor will] also have the bird scream 'f--k you!' to Craig and his friends," Melker, an 18-year veteran paramedic and safety dispatcher, told AOL Real Estate. "It's disturbing and makes our whole lives absolutely hell." (Fontaine and Melker also videotaped an incident with the bird and posted it on YouTube.)
Melker even alleged that Taylor and Levasseur painted an image of a cockatoo on the side of their own house (pictured at top) to mock them. Fontaine and Melker have filed more than thirty police reports against their neighbors, the latest recorded on July 31.
Although the couple was granted a restraining order against Taylor and Levasseur on Jan. 13, they said the harassment won't stop. Recently, police refused to arrest Taylor for violating the restraining order because it was technically "the bird screaming obscenities, not her," Melker said.
Taylor herself has filed police reports against Melker and Fontaine for "antagonizing her bird," according to a spokesperson for the Warwick Police Department. When contacted by AOL Real Estate, Taylor declined to comment on the matter, and her lawyer did not return repeated calls for comment.
A Common Problem?
Fontaine and Melker are certainly not alone in having messy disputes with neighbors. Some around the country have even turned fatal. Last month, a long-standing feud between a couple and their neighbor in Hawaii ended in an attempted murder and suicide. In June, a confrontation over loud music led a Texas man to kill his neighbor. And in February, a heated altercation over dog waste led a Philadelphia man to shoot his neighbor dead.
Thankfully, though, a case similar to Fontaine and Melker's earlier this year had a less tragic outcome. In June, Kim and Greg Hoffman (pictured at right) of White Bear Lake, Minn., had a restraining order issued against their neighbor, Lori Christensen, after claiming she yelled obscenities, made lewd gestures and repeatedly "terrorized" the Hoffman family. Upon violation of that order, Christensen was forced to serve a prison sentence and promised in court to sell her home and "never return to the neighborhood."
Fontaine and Melker said that they have given up hope for a similar outcome, and instead, they just want to sell their home and leave. The couple put their 6,610-square-foot home (pictured below left) on the market in July and are hoping to sell soon.
But not if Taylor can help it, they said. They're convinced that, since the for-sale sign was erected in their front yard, Taylor is trying to prevent them from moving.
"She painted a hideous bird on the side of [her] house to ward off buyers," Melker said. "It's an eyesore! She's driven us out, but now we can't leave."
The couple also claimed that Taylor will stand on the street in front of their home during viewing appointments and openly film potential buyers and guests.
"The home's appraiser came and said that she filmed him," Fontaine and Melker's listing agent, who didn't want to be named, told AOL Real Estate. "It's a little crazy, and it's an invasion of privacy. It's not so much the painting -- I'm worried that all of it will affect potential buyers."
How to Protect Yourself Against Neighbors from Hell
If you find yourself in a position where a neighbor is actively trying to prevent the sale of your home, you may have grounds to sue, said real estate attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, owner of the eponymous Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. law firm. In this particular case, Fontaine and Melker could take Taylor to court for interfering with contractual relations, if all other alternatives, such as mediation, have been unsuccessful or exhausted.
"You may have a case if you can prove that it's intentional," Bailey said. "You have to prove that the neighbor is behaving this way with the intent of trying to break up or prevent a contractual relation -- that is, preventing them [from entering] into a contract to sell the home."
In the case of general harassment, experts say it's always best to try mediation before litigation. Attempt to talk with the offending neighbor, or seek a third-party mediator through the National Association For Community Mediation. NAFCM has more than 200 centers nationwide with mediators trained in resolving neighbor disputes, and the organization will offer their services for free or at reduced costs.
Also, if you are part of a condo or homeowner's association, it can confront the neighbor on your behalf; if that proves unsuccessful, such associations may restrict privileges or impose fines on the neighbor. (That can potentially lead to a lien being put on the neighbor's property if the fines go unpaid).
But should it come to the worst-case scenario, Melker offered this advice: "Do not be afraid to go to court. Judges are people, too, and they have bad neighbors."
"You have done nothing wrong," Melker added. "You have neighbors from hell, and they come in all kinds -- even the feathered kind."
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