Hot Potato

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


Ron Honberg, NAMI's legal affairs director, has seen just about every kind of lawsuit relating to mentally ill neighbors, but he says he's never seen anything quite like Melton's case against Thinnes.

"I think this is an absolute first," he says. "To me, this is the ultimate in hypocrisy. Property values have dropped uniformly. This is NIMBYism at its worse. NIMBY stands for Not In My Back Yard. The term was originally coined during desegregation. Now people say, 'I'm all for people with disabilities living in neighborhoods, just not in mine.'"

While neighbors and police reports confirm Tatum once threw a brick through a window, there is no evidence that she has actually harmed a person in the two decades she's lived on Montecito. (Nor has anyone in a position of authority offered a diagnosis for Tatum.)

Tatum's hundreds of calls to police deal with imagined attackers who are out to get her. In one call, Tatum reported that her sister was shooting poison at her mom's legs. In another, she claimed that she'd been followed and people were on her roof, interrupting her phone calls.

"I think the focal point of a lawsuit should be on a person's behavior, not their psychiatric state. I think we've all had experiences with neighbors who behaved inappropriately or disturbingly," Honberg says. "Most of those disruptions have nothing to do with mental illness."

Honberg also acknowledged a father's natural concern for a daughter's safety. "For the father, the expectation of safety for his daughter is legitimate. If [Tatum]'s a legitimate threat, that's one thing. But I have to question if she meets the definition of being a legitimate threat."


On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Candy Tatum answers the door at her house. She says she doesn't much care for the neighborhood on East Montecito. "I have never liked it here. I believe people in the neighborhood live in glass houses and throw stones."

Inside, Tatum's house is dark. The kitchen linoleum appears to be original, circa 1954. Two birds squawk in their cage and, in the backyard, a dog barks.

Tatum is barefoot, with a short, graying ponytail on top, buzz cut underneath, and a cigarette in hand. She explains the history of the neighborhood, including the friendly math teacher who lived next door before Nathan Thinnes moved there.

"In 1999, Nathan bought it, and he was telling everybody he was this big-shot real estate guy, and he was just a punk," she says. She adds that her new neighbor Kelly is friendly enough.

Tatum lives with her mother, Tommie Lawson Tatum, who is 87 and apparently hard of hearing. She enters the room and insists that the interview stop. Candy raises her voice and resists.

Candy walks out the front door, and about 15 feet away, Glenn Melton's son, Jeff Melton, is carrying a box from his vintage Mercedes into the garage next door.

With Tatum out of earshot, Jeff later explains, "She just talks to people that aren't there basically."

Has Tatum ever done anything violent?

"Not that I've experienced, no, nothing like that. A lot of her yelling and screaming at people that aren't there," Jeff Melton says.

Has she ever come onto your property?

"No, the most that she'll do is maybe come over and water the plants if she sees they need watering," he adds. "Other than that, no, she stays on her own property."

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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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