When Martin Hart and Massimo Gaido first became neighbors in 2004, they were, well, neighborly. Their wives extended dinner invitations and the husbands discussed projects they were doing around the house.
But the friendly vibe has dissipated at the hands of a property dispute that turned ugly. Both men are threatening each other with lawyers and Hart has gone so far as to put his home up for sale so he and his family can move to nearby Riverside.
Compounding the sour relationship is a poor job of code enforcement on the part of the village, Hart said.
“We had no intentions of moving before this happened,” Hart said.
At issue is a thin strip of land between the two homes that, according to Hart, is forcing water into his basement. Specifically, Hart is alleging that his neighbor graded the property to slope toward his basement, and then added a semi-permeable synthetic mesh to help keep the weeds down. During heavy rains, Hart said, that mesh acts as a waterslide.
Gaido, however, said the landscaping improvements he made in July of 2006 have nothing to do with any water problems his neighbor might be having.
“Immediately he pointed the finger at me,” Gaido said.
Hart and his wife Kathleen live at 904 Thomas Ave. with their two kids, and are expecting a third child soon. The couple relocated to Forest Park where Hart’s family has lived for decades.
About six months later, in December 2004, Gaido and his wife moved into the house at 900 Thomas Ave. Gaido is an architect by trade, he said, and works as a linguist now.
To try and solve their dispute, the village’s Department of Public Health and Safety was called in to determine whether a code infraction existed. Additionally, Hart said he contacted the mayor on several occasions to see if he could lend any political muscle. The director of the village’s code enforcement office, Mike Boyle, declined to comment, but Mayor Anthony Calderone said Boyle’s office did issue a ruling on the matter.
“I think that did happen,” Calderone said. “There is no violation of village code over there.”
That sentiment is shared by Gaido, who said that if a determination to the contrary was made by the village, he would comply with whatever remediation was ordered. Hart, however, said he has yet to get a straight answer from Boyle’s office and has been left waiting on the mayor’s office to mediate a solution.
According to both neighbors, the mayor and a village attorney now handling the case, Calderone has made several attempts to resolve the dispute. After being contacted by Hart, Calderone said he responded with visits and follow up phone calls to both Thomas Avenue residents. For his efforts though, the squabbling neighbors have never sat down with village staff to hash out a solution.
Calderone said he has since turned the matter over to attorney Tom Bastian, who works with the village’s contracted law firm. The intention all along was to be “responsive” to the residents, Calderone said.
“We like to be a responsive village,” Calderone said. “If they call me, they’re going to get a phone call back.”
If Gaido’s landscaping is at fault, it may not be the only infraction in play here. According to Hart, the proximity of the two houses to one another is exacerbating the problem.
According to Gaido, Hart’s home is actually encroaching 2 inches over the property line and the roof’s overhang is encroaching another 18 inches. In an Aug. 28, 2006, letter to Hart and his wife, Boyle ordered the residents of 904 Thomas Ave. to relocate their downspout and a furnace exhaust to another exterior wall so that it is not encroaching on Gaido’s property. Boyle alludes to a compromise between the neighbors in his letter, but it is unclear what role the code enforcement office may have had in that agreement.
Hart complied with the order, but said the larger issue implicit in Boyle’s letter is that permitted construction projects are later being deemed in violation of local ordinances.
Both the mayor and the village’s attorney, Bastian, denied any culpability on the village’s part for poorly enforcing the zoning codes. The homes were built decades ago, Bastian said, and any zoning irregularities may have been due to poor site plan reviews or a lack of full-time inspection staff. Bastian said he did not know whether village staff has researched those issues, or whether those records even exist.
“There’s absolutely no liability on the village’s part,” Bastian said. “That has nothing to do with it. There’s a larger picture here and that’s to resolve things amicably.”
Since seeking the village’s help some nine months ago, Hart said the lack of any definitive action is “forcing” the dispute between he and Gaido. Meanwhile, Hart said he’s spending some $2,500 to have his foundation sealed before he sells it.
“There’s no doubt there’s culpability,” Hart said. “Why do they have village inspectors?”
Gaido knows that his neighbor is in the process of moving and said that may be the only way to get some peace.
“I will be much happier when he sells it,” Gaido said. “I will give the buyer $5,000 to make the transaction a little faster.”