Lawsuit Claims Hoffmann Violated Neighbor’s Property Rights

(Last Updated On: January 2, 2017)

A lawsuit filed in Guilford County claims that Greensboro City Council member Nancy Hoffmann’s redevelopment of a building in the 300 block of South Elm Street included trespass and unlawful encroachments on a neighboring building.

Property owner Sidney Gray filed the suit in March against Hoffmann’s limited liability company, Enfield LLC and her hired contractor, Auburn Construction. The suit claims that the construction firm used a wall on Gray’s building as a support structure without permission and built a vestibule partially atop the wall. These encroachments are among a list of nine specific violations of Gray’s property rights that are at issue in the lawsuit.

Interestingly, the lawsuit refers to a claim by Hoffmann’s company that it has “adverse possession rights” to Gray’s property, despite North Carolina law requiring 20 years of possession for an “adverse possession” claim to be valid.

Both Gray and Hoffmann have referred questions about the dispute to their respective attorneys.

The specifics of the suit get complicated quickly with various corporate entities and historical covenants, but can be summed up as follows:

Gray owns a corporation, 300 South Elm, in partnership with his wife, Ruth Gray. 300 South Elm owns one of Gray’s many downtown properties, in this instance the building at Washington and Elm streets most known as “The Glitters Building.” Hoffmann bought a building adjacent to 300 South Elm, which is now home to Scuppernong Books, located at 302-304 South Elm.

The southern wall on Gray’s building is the subject of an 1896 agreement, handwritten and filed with the Register of Deeds on Nov. 23, 1896. The Wall Agreement gave the Methodist Protestant Publishing House permission to erect a building next to what is now the Glitter’s Building. The owner at the time allowed the 302 South Elm building to attach to his wall, providing they built a stairway to the second floor of his property.

The agreement gives the 302 S. Elm owner permission to “build to said wall but not so as to materially impair or damage or endanger said wall” but not to “remove, change or impair the said wall when completed without the consent of the other party …”

In 1928, the owner of 300 S. Elm added an extension of the wall in order to add an elevator shaft to the property.
The lawsuit claims the encroachments violate both the Wall Agreement and the 1928 Addition.

“During 2013-2014, Enfield undertook to renovate the building at 302-304 S. Elm, and in the course of that project, Enfield installed and constructed certain additions to the building, portions of which attach to, rest upon, or penetrate 300 S. Elm,” the suit states.

In addition to the destruction of metal coping on top of Gray’s wall, the suit claims Hoffmann’s contractor placed a portion of a rubberized roof on top of his property. A vestibule belonging to Hoffmann’s building rests on top of Gray’s building, the suit states, in addition to roof joists that penetrate the wall of 300 S. Elm.

The suit claims that Auburn Construction entered and damaged the elevator shaft area “with rods and bolts that were drilled and/or inserted into the 1928 addition to support an elevated deck serving 302-304 S. Elm.”

Gray claims he was not consulted about these encroachments of his property rights and that when he noticed the work in September 2013 that he contacted Hoffmann.

A Sept. 29, 2013 email from Gray to Hoffmann is an exhibit included in the lawsuit.

“This new construction is in violation of our party wall agreement that was subject to and a part of the purchase of your property at 302 South Elm Street,” Gray wrote. “Please remove this structure and repair any damage to the South Wall of my building located at 300 South Elm Street.”

The suit claims that Hoffmann and her contractor, Alex Ritchy of Auburn Construction, ignored Gray’s request. This led to a meeting on Dec. 17, 2013 in which, according to the lawsuit, City of Greensboro officials met with Ritchy.

“There was general agreement that the encroachments were unlawful,” the lawsuit states. “There was general concern about whether the encroachments compromised the Wall such that there were questions about the structural integrity and firewall rating of the wall.”

Gray claims that trespasses and encroachments continued after this point and that Hoffmann refused to remove the encroachments or repair the claimed damage.

“300 S. Elm Street has an ongoing interest in either renting, selling 300 S. elm or adding improvements … all of which are hindered by the presence of the Encroachments.