Surrey homeowner Christina Sun has been severely rebuked and taught an expensive lesson that good fences make good neighbours.
After a 10-day trial (yes, ten days!) in B.C. Supreme Court, Sun was slammed for her self-help remedy of pulling down a six-foot privacy fence between the backyards of her and her neighbour’s homes, trespassing, destroying shrubbery, dismantling a rock garden, defacing her neighbour’s barbecue and hurling the slur, “Go back to your jungle.”
Justice Patrice Abrioux hammered Sun for her abusive high-handed conduct, self-righteousness and intense belief that no one should be spared her wrath if they disagreed with her.
“It is clear that much of Ms. Sun’s behaviour has been malicious and oppressive,” he said, adding the evidence highlighted “the inappropriate and disruptive nature” of her conduct.
Rather than unilaterally demolishing the fence and badgering Jan Heather Gibson and her family, Abrioux suggested Sun should have applied for a court order to have the fence removed or relocated:
“Instead, Ms. Sun took the law, wrongfully, into her own hands.”
The two neighbours own adjoining properties in the 14900-block of 57 Avenue in Panorama Village, Surrey, that are subject to a 1995 restrictive covenant containing guidelines with a diagram identifying a “privacy fence” at the back between the various lots.
There is also a 24-inch “access easement” registered in 1997 that gives the Gibsons “non-exclusive, full and free right, liberty and easement.”
Described as a sophisticated businesswoman with several rental properties, Sun purchased the Panorama property on Aug. 8, 2008.
She lived in the home for a time before renting it to two tenants, including her former husband who lived in one unit with their son.
Gibson, who by the time of the trial had retired as city clerk for New Westminster, purchased her property on Sept. 22, 2010, and lived there with her husband, Glenn Fyfe, and their son.
At the time, there was an existing back fence between the two homes and concrete paving stones on the Gibson’s property and the easement.
The previous owner, Anita Desjardins, who had owned the home since Aug. 1999, had installed a wood shed on the paving stones.
She testified that in 1999 a six-foot fence ran along the back boundary and that after Sun purchased her home she never complained about the back fence, the shed or a front fence.
Gibson and Fyfe removed the shed after they moved in and replaced it with a fireplace on the paving stones with patio chairs, a quiet refuge shielded by the back fence.
In the fall of 2015, however, Sun decided that the Gibsons were encroaching on her property and on Oct. 31, she served them with a trespass notice demanding they remove their front and back fences on the easement.
In the interests of keeping the peace, Gibson replaced the front fence in February 2016 with a boxwood hedge and a rock garden.
But she sent an email to Sun explaining she wasn’t removing the back fence because it was permitted under the covenant and easement, and provided much-desired privacy.
On Feb. 26, 2016, while Gibson was away from home, Sun and a contractor removed the shrubs and stone garden and began tearing down the back fence.
Gibson’s return precipitated a nasty confrontation that resulted in neighbours gawking and police being summoned.
On March 19, Sun was videotaped defacing Gibson’s backyard fireplace and its cover, writing the word “Free,” on it to invite anyone who might come down the alley to take it and hurling the racial epithet.
As the dispute escalated, surveys were done to establish the correct boundaries.
On Oct. 5, Sun emailed Gibson accusing her of stealing her land, demanding she accept the supposed “facts … before the real ugly war starts.”
“Ms. Gibson,” he noted, “throughout her dealings with Ms. Sun, attempted to be non- confrontational while at the same time doing what she considered necessary to protect her interests, such as arranging for video or photos to be taken to record Ms. Sun’s actions.”
Abrioux said the back fence was permitted under the covenant and easement, which were contractual documents.
He concluded Gibson and her family “have been deprived of the physical use and enjoyment of their property they are entitled to for nearly three years; the deprivation has been significant; and it has been accompanied by aggressive behaviour that has forced Ms. Gibson and her family to alter their behaviour at home in response.”
Abrioux awarded Gibson $500 for Sun’s trespass, $12,500 for the nuisance she caused, $8,538 in special damages for out-of-pocket expenses and $5,000 in punitive damages.
Gibson, he said, was entitled to interest from Feb. 26, 2016 for the out-of-pocket expenses.
The justice issued a permanent injunction permitting Gibson to replace and maintain the destroyed fence and prohibiting Sun from interfering.
Sun, who represented herself, also must pay Gibson’s legal bill.
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