A spite house is an architectural phenomenon built on rage and revenge. People typically build these homes to irritate neighbors or another interested party.
But is it legal to construct these strange and impractical structures solely to annoy another person?
We’re looking into the history of spite houses and checking out some famous ones. We’ll also look at whether or not they’re legal.
Let’s jump in!
What Is a Spite House?
Occasionally, legal disputes over real estate or inherited property can turn combative. This sometimes leads to a disgruntled person acting irrationally and maliciously toward the other party.
Spite houses, also known as revenge houses, might block out light or access to nearby buildings, create obstructions, or be flagrant symbols of defiance.
The construction of a revenge building is frequently the result of a family dispute over an inheritance or property rights. For example, a sibling feeling wronged might build a spite house that blocks the view of the other sibling’s home or creates malicious distractions.
People often build these dwellings on oddly-shaped land, resulting in peculiar house designs.
Why Is It Called a Spite House?
As mentioned above, buildings of this type are built on anger and are meant to provoke.
Typically designed to block a neighbor’s view or sunlight, they usually have walls that closely border property lines. Whatever their shape, these are structures built to exact revenge.
However, these types of buildings aren’t limited to residences. Spite houses and spite farms are rarer than spite fences which are far cheaper, quicker, and easier than building a home. People sometimes use similar structures known as spite or blinder walls for blocking views.
Modern building codes don’t allow builders to disturb a neighbor’s views or privacy. As a result, the fences and walls are easier to get away with.
Another way to get around these building codes is to paint the building in gaudy colors and bizarre designs. Adding impractical or intrusive structures such as spires or non-functional chimneys is another way to annoy.
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Common Features of Revenge Houses
There are as many features of spite houses as there are ways to annoy neighbors or city officials.
A common feature of these structures is they tend to be in small spaces. They’re often skinny or tall buildings constructed so close to other homes that they block out views and light.
Others thwart the building of roads and other community projects. In addition, some commercial spite buildings exact revenge by building them on odd-shaped parcels.
Finally, painting buildings with eyesore colors and designs are a common feature in these spite structures.
Are Spite Houses Legal?
While homeowners don’t have any explicit rights to views, light, or air, neighbors can sue if the easement is a nuisance. Courts are more likely to side with the neighboring parties affected by the building. With the advent of HOAs, some rules also prevent disturbing or being a nuisance to neighbors.
Other challenges to building spite houses are codes that prevent the construction of a residence likely to obstruct the views and privacy of neighbors.
Revenge houses may also be costly to build, especially if the owners don’t have a practical use besides obstruction.
Do People Really Live in Revenge Houses?
Although the construction of these dwellings is often not to code, many get grandfathered into modern building codes.
Since revenge houses typically aren’t practical, the owners don’t always live in them. But people often use them for other purposes.
The Miracle House in Long Island, NY, was built to stop the city from laying a road that would reduce the land size.
The city had a law that it couldn’t create a road if construction was in progress on the land. This prompted the property owner to build a seven-bedroom home on a triangle-shaped lot. The completed home sold in 2015 for $355,000.
In the early 1900s, a man built a residence next to a small empty lot in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When the house’s owner refused to buy the unused land, the original lot owner produced an awkward eight-foot-wide building that looked like a shed. Today the structure is occupied by an interior design company.
Another dwelling created to spite local officials is in Frederick, Maryland. Similarly built to thwart road construction, the owner never lived in the Tyler spite house. Instead, they rented it out, and it recently became a bed and breakfast.
Where Are the Most Famous Spite Houses in America?
The US has spite houses strewn from coast-to-coast. These, however, are some of the most well-known versions.
A bricklayer by trade and a city council member, John Hollensbury of Alexandria, Virginia, made one of America’s most famous revenge houses.
After being woken many times by late-night loitering in the alley next door, Hollensbury had enough. He took his spite out on the loiterers by walling the passage off, brick by brick.
Before long, he built what people would dub the most narrow house in America. You can still see wagon wheel scrape marks on one wall.
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There’s a local legend in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood of a tiny home built after a heated dispute between neighbors back in 1925.
The story goes that the neighbor offered the owner of the small parcel a paltry sum of money for the land to grow a garden. So insulted by the lowball offer, the landowner decided to build a tiny home on it instead.
The result was a two-story home barely 15 feet at its widest point and under five feet wide at its narrowest point. The neighbor who tried to buy the property later moved out because the home ruined his views. The skinny home is known to locals as simply the Spite House.
As we’ve discovered, skinny dwellings are a common feature of revenge houses.
The most famous of these is in Boston, Massachusetts. The rumors say that the house was the result of a feud between two brothers around the time of the Civil War. They had inherited the land from their deceased father.
However, upon his return from the war, one brother found that his sibling had already built a large house on the land.
Feeling that the dwelling divided the land unfairly, the house-less brother angrily constructed the Skinny House. This revenge blocked sunlight to his brother’s mansion and ruined the view.
This spite house is now a privately-owned residence. According to former owners, everyone had to move when someone had to go to the bathroom.
The (Almost) Unbelievable Reality of Revenge Houses
Spite houses have a long and fascinating history in the United States. Incredibly, people really do build homes for the sole purpose of annoyance. Their reasons can range from feuding families or neighbors to disputes over city building ordinances. And because real estate is so valuable in urban areas, many of these buildings are in use.
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