Next-Door Neighbors Force Couple to Tear Down Dream Home

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Image via Keloland News

Large, four bedroom home built a mere seven feet from neighbor’s house

How would you feel if you built your dream house, approved by city zoning, only to have your next-door neighbors sue to make you tear it down? What if you lived in a historic neighborhood and your new neighbors moved in and built a McMansion seven feet away from your home, blocking your natural light? This is the drama that’s happening in one South Dakota neighborhood right now.

A South Dakota judge told Josh and Sarah Sapienza to “reconstruct or relocate” their new four bedroom house. USA Today reports the new home violates historic requirements in the McKennan Park Historic District.

The Sapienzas are being sued by their next-door neighbors, Pierce and Barbara McDowell, whose house — before you demonize them — lies a ridiculous seven feet away from the Sapienzas’. According to Redbook, they say the house blocks their natural light. And in 2015, a fire inspector told the couple they were no longer able to use their fireplace, as it was within ten feet of the Sapienzas’ home.

“The Sapienzas have violated historic requirements in the McKennan Park Historic District, which disrupts the character of the neighborhood and does not fit the size and space requirements under current regulations,” wrote Judge John Pekas, who ruled in favor of the McDowells six months after the case came into court, and one year after the battle began.

The judge also agrees that the McDowells’ home has lost substantial monetary and historic value due to their neighbors’ house, but he says, “A monetary award would not remedy this and the Sapiezas ought to conform their residence or rebuild their residence.” He ruled that the house violates the size and space requirements, as well as the character of the neighborhood. Ouch. The Sapienzas would have to relocate their home, chop eight feet off the top, or bring in the wrecking ball.

The feud between the Sapienzas and the McDowells isn’t a new one. While the house was under construction, the McDowells sent a cease and desist letter threatening legal action if construction continued – a letter the Sapienzas chose to ignore.

“They just blindly went forward with building this thing without any regard to anyone but themselves,” the McDowells’ lawyer Steve Johnson told The Daily Mail. The Sapienzas’ lawyer refused to comment.

“My clients are very pleased. It’s been a very long road for them,” Johnson told Keloland News . “If you’ve got zoning laws and you’ve got historical standards, what is the point of having those if people don’t comply with them. And that was the argument in the case.” He also says the ruling protects other homeowners in Sioux Falls, presumably from having neighbors build only seven feet from their own houses.

The McDowells, their lawyer, and Judge Pekas have all cited historic district standards to support their claims. But there’s a catch: the plans for the home were approved by the city of Sioux Falls. However, the city failed to apply federal standards for building in historic districts. That means, as Pekas ruled, that the city may have been negligent. As of yet, no one’s ruled on whether or not the city owes anyone anything, and the city is refusing to comment.

Earlier this year, staff and members of the Sioux Falls Board of Historic Preservation testified at a trial they had not been aware of the rules. Oops.

The Sapienzas have the chance to appeal and continue to live seven feet away from their neighbors.

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