An Edgware couple went through “a year of hell” when a neighbourly dispute over the placement of a wheelie bin ended up in court with a £21,000 legal bill.
Liaquat and Liphe Ali have been tormented since the civil action was started by their neighbour Iqbal Suleman in July last year.
Mr Suleman claimed the bin blocked him from driving his car through the shared driveway between their homes in Brook Avenue.
Mr Ali initially moved the bin to ensure it did not block the drive.
But the self employed computer analyst was shocked to receive a letter from Lyons Davidson solicitors in July last year seeking an injunction, damages, interest and costs for the inconvenience caused.
Despite Mr Ali moving the bin to the back end of the house, Mr Suleman’s representatives took the matter to two civil court hearings and are now demanding almost £21,000 in legal costs.
The firm is acting under a conditional fee agreement, meaning they are guaranteed to be paid regardless of the outcome under the claimant's house insurance.
Lyons Davidson’s latest demands follow what the Alis described as "12 months of harassment” from the lawyers, who sent numerous letters demanding compliance and threatening further legal action.
The stress of the situation forced the couple to install CCTV down the side of their home and endure sleepless nights trying to resolve the issue.
Father-of-two Mr Ali, 49, said: “There have been threats and more threats. We feel like we’re living under house arrest. Every time the post arrives we’re worried.
“When you go through something like this your whole life becomes topsy-turvy. It is affecting our children as well. They’re getting upset by the amount we’re talking about it.
“It has taken over our lives – we just want it finished. It is a living hell.”
Part-time carer Mrs Ali, 38, added: “I got sick through all the stress. I can’t tell you the days and nights I have cried, wondering what is going on. It still makes me upset now.”
The fear of legal action became so great, the couple even cancelled their waste collection in May and have since removed the rubbish bin altogether.
Mr Ali said: “We’re worried the bin men will put it back down the side of the house like they do with all the other drives – we don’t want to risk breaching anything.”
Despite the bin being removed, Mr Suleman continues to pursue a claim for the substantial costs.
His solicitors compiled a 40-page evidence document, to which the Alis responded with their own file containing almost 300 pages of photographs and witness statements.
At a county court hearing on August 2, Mr Ali agreed to settle the matter by paying some of Mr Suleman’s legal costs, though both parties are now in dispute over the amount.
Mr Ali, who has spent more than £2,000 on legal advice himself, said: “Lyons Davidson has been very unhelpful and aggressive in their dealings with us. They just seem to want to rack up their bill.”
Mrs Ali added: “I’m angry at the court – this should have been sorted a long time ago. £21,000 is a lot of money over a wheelie bin. I keep asking myself why has it come this far and why are we being put through this?”
Land registry plans suggest the driveway is shared, but the claim is being made on the point of a right of access for Mr Suleman, who parks his car on his paved back garden.
On the legal action, Mr Ali added: “It is like taking a sledge hammer to crack a nut. We’ll be so relieved when this is all over.
“It’s ridiculous, absurd. It’s a waste of the courts’ time, a waste of taxpayers’ money. We’re not criminals and yet we have been put through so much.”
Richard Bridges, a solicitor at Kirkwoods who has been giving legal advice to the Alis, said: “I haven’t seen anything like this in my 23-year career.
“It is one of the most trivial cases I have come across. It needn’t have got this far – they could have just knocked on the door and asked them to move their bin.
“Like most cases of this nature, if people were a bit more neighbourly it could be avoided. These things often don’t get to court because people are more sensible.”
The Times Series has been unable to contact Mr Suleman, while Lyons Davidson declined to comment on the case on behalf of either themselves or their client.