Friday, August 05, 2016

An expensive dispute between neighbors

Mr Chan's neighbor sold his house. The new owner, Mr Lee, replaced the fence between the two houses without consulting Mr. Chan. He also tiled his garden.

Mrs Chan told the new neighbor that when she watered her garden, some of the water might splash over to the other side and wet the tiled garden. There was some misunderstanding. Mr Lee engaged a contractor to board the fence, again without consulting Mr. Chan.

Mr. Chan objected to the board being constructed on his side of the fence and requested Mr. Lee to transfer the boards to his side of the fence. Mr. Lee refused. Mr Chan took away the boards and returned them to Mr. Lee.  Both parties tried to settle the dispute through mediation. They could not reach any agreement.

Mr. Lee took a civil suit against Mr. Chan for damaging his fence. Mr Chan engaged a lawyer to respond to the suit. The court mandated both parties to settle their dispute through mediation. Both parties and their lawyers met the mediator on several occasions and could not reach any agreement.

Mr. Chan was surpsied to receive an invoice from his lawyer for legal fees of $13,000. His lawyer told him that the legal fees for the legal suit is estimated to be $40,000. Even if Mr Chan wins the case, he will still have to bear a large part of the cost.

Mr. Chan sought my advice on what he should do.

Here are my friendly (non legal) advice to Mr. Chan.

1. Invite Mr. Lee for a coffee and have a friendly discussion on how to settle their dispute.

2. In the discussion, the focus should be on the way forward. They should not look back and argue about who was right or wrong.

3. Recognize that both parties had incurred hefty and unnecessary expenses and legal fees over this matter.

4. If they cannot agree, go to court mediation and get the advice of the mediator. They should focus on "going forward" rather than argue about the past.

5. Each party should bear their own cost.

Here is my advice to consumers in general.

1. Be careful about engaging lawyers. Check with them about their fees. Ask them to send a progress bill every month. Do not wait a few months and be shocked with a large bill.

2. When you know how expense lawyers can be, be willing to pay a reasonable fee for other services that you use. Do not expect these service, including financial advice, for free.

Mr. Chan told me that he had learned an expensive lesson over this matter. If he knew how costly it could be, he would not have allowed the dispute to go to this stage. 

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