Wood Smoke Stories

Hired a lawyer

More than a decade ago I noticed the smoke from our neighbors’ fireplace to the west of us (and directly next door us) was blanketing our front and back yards.

Over the years, as a result of various interactions with them, I have come to understand that this husband and wife are very much protective of their property rights, but not the rights of others. They feel that no matter what they do which may annoy or even harm other neighbors, well, that's just too damn bad.

Over the ensuing years I became more and more concerned. It became apparent that the husband is an insomniac of sorts (all I can surmise). He began burning his fireplace at 1AM, 2:30AM, 4AM, etc. One night I awoke and realized my heart was pounding. The smoke was so terrible, I thought my house was on fire. I jumped up, raced outside and was aghast when I realized it was smoke from my neighbors’ fireplace.

After that night, I would sometimes awake from the smoke smell and have to move to the other side of my house in the middle of the night. I could still smell the smoke, but not as strongly.

This went on for many years… In the winter I began getting more and more sick. My lungs have always been sensitive. It took me a while to realize that it was the wood smoke which was killing me.

About two years ago I tried again to talk with my neighbors about their smoke. I tried my best to be civil. As I spoke with them, I handed them much good printed information regarding the health hazards of wood smoke. I gave them a letter from my lung doctor. I told them my family and I weren’t able to keep our doors and windows open as we generally liked to do. I also told them that many times we had had to rewash our hung laundry, due to it smelling like smoke from their fireplace. I told them my asthma was getting worse and that my doctor had told me years before to avoid wood smoke at all costs.

Our dialogue was, unfortunately, not very productive. At 5:30AM one morning, the smoke was particularly bad. It woke me from a deep sleep. I knocked on my neighbors’ door. He and his wife were in their living room, far from their fireplace, which is located at the back of their house and in a downstairs den. The husband was testy and his first words to me were “Do you know what time it is?” To which I replied, “Why do you think I am here at this time? Your smoke has filled my house. It woke me up. Please stop smoking me out of my house.” He said he would think about what I had said.

A neighbor to the east of us told me she was also feeling the effects (“It’s so HORRIBLE!”) from this same source of wood smoke. I am hoping she will write a testimonial so that it will help put a stop to this smoke. On February 10, that was the final straw. My back was up against the wall. Two days later, I hired a top real estate attorney. $400 per hour. His partner took my case for “only” $250 per hour. Plus a $3,000 retainer.

Unfortunately, at the outset, via my attorney, I made the BIG MISTAKE of offering to pay these neighbors to convert their fireplace to gas logs. Typical of these bullies, they had their high-priced attorney tell my high-priced attorneys that I can pay to convert two of their fireplaces. What? Yes. There is a second chimney, for a fireplace which hasn’t been used in 56 years that I know of (that's how long I've lived in my home).

My attorney advised me to let my neighbors get a few estimates. “It's premature to tell them that you only want to pay for the one fireplace,” I was told. Against my better judgment, I let things proceed. The lowest estimate for both fireplaces is for $5,400. What do I do? Do I pay these neighbors to keep their poison off my property? Are they really going to sign off on never burning wood on their property ever again?

I feel like I am being victimized more and more. Bullied. Why should I pay them money to stop doing something that they never should have been doing in the first place, which is to trespass/encroach upon my property with a hazardous substance?