Funny story: we decided to install a fence recently. A few days ago, I get a call from Mark (the guy installing the fence) saying that while he was digging fence-posts, he went straight through my neighbors sprinkler line which ran nice and snug along the property line. We comment about what a bad idea it is to install a sprinkler line there, and I call my neighbor to inform him of the misfortune and begin working towards a solution. He tells me there's no way his sprinkler line is on the property line, we assert that the line is indeed on the property line, have checked with the city, and have measured and verified that the property line is indeed where the markers say it is.
Since I felt it was his fault for having the line so close to the property line, part of me didn't feel I was obligated to do anything to help fix it. However, wanting to keep good feelings between neighbors, and since it was in fact my idea to install the fence, I agreed to buy the material to fix the lines if he'll agree to help me do the work. Saturday comes, I bought the pipe and fittings, and my neighbor and I are digging up the grass to fix the line. Once again, I note how obviously close his sprinkler line is on the property line, and even in one spot it clearly comes into my yard an inch! Then, a thought comes to my mind: "what if it's really my sprinkler line? That would be kind of funny, wouldn't it?" I joke about this out loud. Then we look at each-other, and the joke quickly turns into a prime suspect (one that neither of us had thought of until this point). The city irrigation water was now turned on, so I run and flip on my irrigation valve and cycle through my sprinklers. Hilarity ensues as water sprays everywhere, clearly verifying that my neighbor was in fact right: his sprinkler line WASN'T close to the property line at all, but mine was!!!
I told my neighbor he could go home, that this was my responsibility and I needed to fix it. However, he was really cool, stayed and helped anyways, saying "I don't care whose fault it is, just that it gets fixed". That was awesome of him and made me feel grateful to have such a good neighbor. More so, I'm extremely grateful that we were able to laugh about it instead of me feeling like a complete idiot (as opposed to just a partial idiot).
A couple of things in retrospect:
- When discussing what to do to fix the line, I was really glad I put into practice a few principles I'd learned from the fantastic book on negotiating "Getting to Yes". Had I engaged in positional bargaining (this is your fault so you fix it!) instead of principled negotiation (do you agree that it's fair if...), I would have felt like a lot bigger idiot in the end. Being slow to jump to positions saved a lot of face and made what could have been a big drama, a funny story instead. (trying to avoid "tooting my own horn" here while lending witness to the superiority of principled negotiation over positional bargaining, and the effectiveness of the mentioned book in teaching the subject)
- If you must err (which, being human, we will), err on the side of mercy. I'm grateful to still have a good relationship with my neighbor, and even if it really was his line, how much is amicability between neighbors worth? I'm not advocating that we be soft negotiators and dart straight to any agreement that's unfair to us, there's a line there, somewhere :)
What's the worst neighborly dispute you've had with a neighbor? How did you resolve it?