Sidney Gray lawsuit complains about renovation work by Hoffmann

A building owned by the Gray family shares a wall with an adjoining building owned by Greensboro City Council member Nancy Hoffmann. (photo by Eric Ginsburg)

The renovation of a two-story building by Greensboro City Council member Nancy Hoffmann for Scuppernong Books, its inaugural tenant, wasn’t even complete when Sidney Gray, owner of the adjacent building, emailed a set of complaints.

“I have noticed that the structure you are building encroaches on my wall and my property that adjoins your building,” Gray wrote to Hoffmann on Sept. 29, 2013. “The construction is in violation of our party wall agreement that was the subject to and a part of the purchase of your property at 302 South Elm Street. Also, I have noticed nails and other trash that your workers have left on the roof of my building. Please have them clean them up.”

Gray also raised the issue of soundproofing, reminding Hoffmann of a meeting in February with his wife, Ricki, and architect Jerry Liemenstoll.

“As you will recall I organized this meeting as a good neighbor because of my concern of potential noise that night emanate from either side of our buildings in the future,” Gray wrote. “Jerry, an AIA-certified architect, said that now is the time for you to soundproof your side of the party wall between us and that your architects would know how to do this to avoid any future problems.”

The Grays’ building, commonly known as the “Glitters Building” because of the store that occupies its north bay, has not had a tenant on the south bay, which adjoins Hoffmann’s building, for many years.

The Glitters Building was the subject of a Triad City Beat cover story that focused on complaints by Brian Lampkin, Scuppernong Books’ co-owner, about the Grays’ unwillingness to make substantial investments in their property and on a cycle of building-code violations against the Glitters Building that were eventually dropped by the city of Greensboro.

The two buildings share a wall, whose use is governed by a handwritten agreement executed by the former owners in 1896.

As cited in a lawsuit filed by the Grays in March, the wall agreement holds that the owner of Hoffmann’s building “shall have the privilege and right to tie to and unite its said building with the south wall” of the Glitters Building.” The agreement goes on to say that any construction to the wall shall not “materially impair or damage or endanger,” and that the wall “shall become the common property” of the two building owners.

The Grays filed the lawsuit as 300 South Elm LLC, the ownership entity for the building, naming Enfield LLC, a company wholly owned by Hoffmann, and Auburn Construction, owned by Alex Ritchey, as the defendants.

The Grays contend that at all times 300 South Elm LLC has “retained full ownership of the wall,” despite language in the agreement identifying it as “common property.”

The Grays allege that Hoffmann and Ritchey encroached on their property by building a vestibule on top of the wall, installing a portion of rubberized roof on top of the wall, and removing part of the wall to place new roof joists for Hoffmann’s building.

Hoffmann acknowledged in an answer that she had a vestibule built on top of the wall and had part of the wall covered with rubberized roof. The latter was performed, she said, to “prevent penetration of water into the wall.”

Enfield LLC contends in its answer that “it is specifically denied that those were encroachments in any way or that Enfield was required to consult with plaintiff prior to their installation.”

The lawsuit alleges that a meeting occurred on Dec. 17, 2013 involving Ritchey and a representative of the city of Greensboro, and that there was “general agreement” that the alleged encroachments “were unlawful.” The lawsuit further charges that Ritchey denied removing bricks from the wall to expand an opening for the joists, adding, “However, it is clear that Mr. Ritchey did, indeed, expand the width of the openings to put new joists in the brick.”

Beyond acknowledging that the meeting took place, Enfield and Auburn Construction deny the characterization, with Ritchey specifically denying that he agreed or that there was any “general agreement” that the work was unlawful.

The plaintiff also contends that there was “general concern” at the meeting about whether Ritchey’s work compromised the wall “such that there were questions about the structural integrity and firewall rating (as required by applicable building codes).” Hoffmann and Ritchey deny the allegation.

The Grays allege that their interest in “renting, selling” or “adding improvement” to the building was hindered by what they call Hoffmann’s “encroachments.” Hoffmann denies the allegation.

The plaintiffs allege they have “sustained substantial damage by diminution in value caused by the encroachments.” Hoffmann denies the allegation, adding that the “plaintiff has failed to allege any damages.”

As affirmative defenses, Hoffmann claims that the Grays have “unclean hands” in that they’ve “made changes to the wall without consent of Enfield” — the very accusation they’re levying against her. Hoffmann says her use of the wall “was pursuant to the party wall agreement and therefore was not unauthorized.”

The Grays have until Aug. 26 to respond to Hoffmann’s interrogatories.