Hot Potato

When it comes to neighbors, just what legally constitutes a nuisance?

Now Thinnes has asked for another round of mediation.


It's not unusual to drive down East Montecito and find Candy Tatum, barefoot in the street, talking to herself. Sometimes she shouts at other people, even when there's no one there. She's lived here for 23 years.

Matt Mignanelli

Like many 1950s Phoenix neighborhoods, East Montecito is freckled with high-dollar remodels, neighbored by all-original brick ranch homes. The home Melton bought from Thinnes has been renovated, with a fresh coat of paint and a modern interior. A Mercedes sits in the driveway.

A few feet away, in Tatum's drive, the back of an old Chevy pickup is packed with garbage, an uprooted bush, and Christmas lights. Long, brown grass grows up through a pool-chair in the middle of the front yard.

"Many neighbors are deathly afraid," says one neighbor of 20 years who asked not to be named. "The cops have been called out here so many times they don't even come anymore. She's harmless now, though. She hasn't acted up in ages."

Another neighbor who asked not to identified says Tatum is entertaining and loud but has never bothered him or his wife.

Experts interviewed for this story say this is the first buyer-seller lawsuit they've heard of involving the purported mental state of a neighbor.

The issue at hand is not whether Candy Tatum is mentally ill, says Richard Keyt, who has practiced real estate law in Arizona for 27 years. (He has had nothing to do with the Thinnes/Melton lawsuit.) It's whether or not she's a nuisance.

Disclosure lawsuits in Arizona hinge on the words "material fact." A suing buyer must prove the seller failed to disclose a material fact about the property, and "material" isn't limited to building materials. For example, if someone died in the home or if a neighbor was a convicted child molester, both would be material facts.

Under Arizona legal precedent, such material facts are just as relevant as lead paint or a leaky roof. So, Keyt says, a neighbor who's been a known nuisance for 20-plus years isn't much of a leap.

Keyt emphasizes that in the end, a jury decides whether a given problem is material or not. "We don't really know what material means until the jury says. If there was precedent, I could tell you. There's not."

In the end, he says, it may well come down to personalities. "If your neighbor has bad tendencies or is a major problem neighbor, I think that would be material fact that the seller should disclose," Keyt says. "It could get gray, though. What if the neighbor's only a problem to the seller? If this conduct is consistent, though, that would seem to me to be a material fact."


Six days after Candy Tatum was arrested for throwing potatoes, Glenn Melton closed on Thinnes' home. Kelly moved in, alone. According to Melton, she soon noticed regular occurrences of screaming and cursing from her neighbor. (Kelly could not be reached for comment.)

A year later, Melton learned just how notorious Tatum is in the Phoenix police precinct that serves the neighborhood. He and Thinnes entered mediation.

When Melton later learned that Thinnes himself had Tatum arrested just one week before closing, he was furious. "He maintained that he'd never heard of this, and it turns out he told the arresting officer that she's been threatening him and terrorizing his dog and that this behavior had been going on since he moved in five years ago. He lied," Melton says.

Thinnes says he never lied during the confidential mediation with Melton. He and his lawyer argue that Melton had 10 days of due diligence under Arizona law, when, after purchasing the home, they could have talked to neighbors and researched police reports.

On the advice of his attorneys, Melton decided to sue.

"I'm not looking to make legal history here," he says. "It's not really a convoluted point or philosophical issue. It's just that the guy had been there for five years. He says in his own words that she'd been driving him crazy, and he had the chance to unload the house on an unsuspecting young woman, and he did."

Melton describes himself as an old-school, shake-on-it-and-take-your-word-for-it businessman. He says he took the word of Thinnes, a salesman who lands commissions on multimillion-dollar properties.

"The fact is, we can't sell the house because we would now have to disclose the nuisance, and [Thinnes] should have disclosed it, too," Melton says.

He says the issue of Tatum's behavior, and whether it constitutes mental illness, is a straw man distraction by Thinnes and his attorneys. "Our position is that it doesn't matter if she's mentally ill or a Nazi or a member of the jackhammer society, the initial cause of the behavior doesn't matter to us. It's the behavior itself."

And that behavior, Melton says, is unacceptable. "It's unnerving if Candy's knocking on the door in the middle of the night and saying people are out there to get you. It's also concerning if she keeps weapons in the house and has thrown stuff through other people's windows," he says. "You wonder, could it be some night that she actually acts out something more aggressive?"

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6 comments
Donna Moulton
Donna Moulton

It's pretty disturbing that a real estate attorney with 27 years' experience would state that a seller is required to disclose whether a death occurred in the house, or whether a child molester lives in the neighborhood. The Arizona Association of Realtors' Seller's Property Disclosure Statement specifically excludes these circumstances from required disclosures (lines 241 - 244). I can only hope that the journalist misunderstood Attorney Richard Keyt on this matter.

I am also puzzled about whether the seller checked no in answer to the question regarding nuisances, as stated early in the article, or left the question unchecked, as the plaintiff states later in the article.

Lydia
Lydia

My husband and I lived in pure hell for three years because of a neighbor who was mentally ill. I will not disclose the nature of her illness, because as her SAMHC caseworker once pointed out, the nastiness of the neighbor's behavior was not due to mental illness, but the fact that the woman was (and I quote)," an ***hole."

We tried a restraining order, which she used as yet another means to harass us (filing to contest and then changing her mind at the last minute). I could not go into certain portions of my backyard, and never into the front without being screamed at and threatened. She created posters for her front yard with all kinds of accusations and hung them in her trees. My personal favourite was the sign that referred to me as a," f***ing Hindu," - religious tolerance was not her strong suit (I am Buddhist) and then a mailbox covered with quasi-Buddhist symbolism (fun!)

We had police, with lights blazing, on our street to respond to complaints at least once a week, sometimes almost every day. But we were assured by her mental health caseworkers that she was completely harmless (although the police officers always had to respond in teams of at least two because of her previous threats). For the love of Pete, she tried to have the gnomes in my front yard arrested! Innocent gnomes! The poor officer who had to respond to that complaint. . .

Anyway, I never blamed the man who sold us the house for not telling me the neighbor was mentally ill. And I know he was harassed also on a daily basis (she hated construction and our house was a flip). Imagine my surprise when I discovered our new house had previously been condemned and was reported as a neighborhood eyesore! But not the seller's fault - some people are just really, really weird and that is life. Where on earth should the line be drawn? How mentally ill? Are private medical records going to be dragged into court to prove up property values?

For the record, the neighbor actually died in her home a few months ago. And we all felt so sad - she made the entire neighborhood miserable (our harassment was mild compared to what the neighbors dealt with), but she was still a human being and must have been miserable, alone in her house peeking out the windows at the horrible world.

Sheila
Sheila

I am going to try and sell my home soon. I have a neighbor with an autistic son who talks to himself in the front yard and walks the neighborhood doing things typical of one stricken with this illness. Is Mr. Melton saying that I have to disclose my neighbor�s son as a nuisance? If I do, the mentally ill will become pariah. Worse yet, they will be used as scapegoats for regretful homebuyers who want to unload their home that they�re upside down in. In this depressed real estate market, there are some who will use Mr. Melton�s case as a precedent to get out of their bad purchase. Mr. Melton�s (the CEO of Realty Executives, by the way) actions fly in the face of what Realty Executives has spent tons of advertising money trying to portray - that they �do real estate the right way.� You won�t see a Realty Executives sign in my front yard!!!

Laurie
Laurie

When you buy a home, don't you drive the neighborhood and check out how people take care of their yards, what type of cars they drive, etc to get a feel for who you will be living next to??? When I bought my house in a neighborhood that was turning for the better, I knocked on the doors of the houses on either side to meet the people I would be living next to.... I asked them questions about how safe the area was things of that nature. I do not think Mr. Thinnes needed to disclose any of this information. The buyer should have done more research. If he would have spoken to any of the neighbors on this street it sounds as if from the article he would have heard about Candy and could have made a sound decicision at that time.... Also, as mentioned in the artcle Mr. Thinnes lived in that house for 5 years, if things were really that bad he would have put the house on the market long before he did. The Arizona market was booming and he would have made money at any time over the 5 years or he could have moved out and rented the property he didn't, that says a lot....

Josh Cook
Josh Cook

If home values continued to escalate at levels of the past few years, would Mr. Melton be engaged in this lawsuit? Hardly. He appears to be an ego-maniac who can't cope the reality he bought at the height of the market. Why is he implying his daughter was duped when he, a top real-estate executive, is the one who purchased the home? The assertion Mr. Melton makes that Mr. Thinnes's motivation for selling was his neighbor is absurd when you realize he lived there for over 5 years. If she was such a burden, he would have left earlier. Furthermore, it shouldn't be his legal obligation to disclose he lives next to a person of a protected class. What's next? Disclosing you live next to blind person? This frivolousness should not be tolerated by the courts.

Michael
Michael

As a homeowner in Phoenix I find in apalling that we should be found responsible for disclosing the mental cpacity of our neighbors. If Melton really had a concern about this issue the he could have talked to neighbors or check police reports (public record) prior to purchasing this home. This is simply a case of a home buyer that has buyer remorse and does not want to take any responsibilty for his decisions in a poor real estate market....

 
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