While a developer trying to muscle their way around property law might not seem like a heart-warming holiday tale, this month’s blog does have some kind of holiday-worth conclusion: the power of good-neighborliness and the internet’s expansion of our neighborhoods. When a widow was sued by Bailey Pointe Investment for her front porch allegedly encroaching on their property, people far and wide raced to support the 93-year-old – who inhabits multigenerational land which has been passed down for over a hundred years.
David (Josephine) and Goliath (BPI)
Josephine Wright first moved to her home on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina in the ‘90s – the 1.18 acreage plot having been in her husband’s family since just after the Civil War. After her husband passed away in the late ‘90s, Wright officially acquired the title in 2012.
In 2014, Bailey Point Investment LLC (BPI) bought a large parcel of land on Hilton Head, essentially surrounding Wright. Their broadcasted plan for the land has been consistent: develop and build 147 new homes.
According to Wright’s family members, a representative of BPI showed up at Wright’s door in 2018, offering her $39,000 for her home and land. As stated in her eventual counterclaim, Wright told BPI that her land was not for sale.
BPI subsequently complained that Wright’s satellite dish, shed, and front porch were encroaching on their property, and sent a letter demanding that Wright move the structures. Wright removed the satellite dish and the shed. According to her GoFundMe page, Wright spent $2,000 to have the shed taken down. But it was when Wright approached plans and costs to downsize her porch that something changed.
The Last Straw: the Porch
In February 2023, BPI sued Wright, alleging that her front porch, by encroaching on their property, had significantly slowed their development. BPI’s claims amounted to:
- Continuing trespass
- Injunctive relief – requiring Wright to remove the encroaching porch
- Legal fees
If your eyebrow is arching at a large developer being unable to build any of the planned 147 houses because a single front porch toes the property line – you are not alone.
A History of “Intimidation”
No one can know BPI’s intentions for sure, but the linear sequence of events certainly gives an impression:
- BPI bought property surrounding Wright’s land.
- BPI made an offer to buy Wright’s land.
- Wright refused BPI’s offer.
- BPI made demands of Wright and framed her as “in the wrong.”
- BPI sued Wright.
Wright’s counterclaim describes BPI’s actions as “tactics of intimidation, harassment, trespass, to include this litigation in an effort to force her to sell her property.”
With ample historical evidence regarding land inequality specific to that area, Wright’s argument that BPI is not acting in good faith is a strong one. Members of the Gullah Geechee community (families of formerly enslaved people) retreated to the Beaufort Sea Islands of South Carolina after the Civil War to find respite from mainland racism. Now, their island property is quite valuable. To quote the Wright family attorney, Roberts Vaux, as he spoke to the Island Packet press:
“I can’t say that that’s what these people [Bailey Point] are doing, but that’s something that I’ve seen in the last 51 years practicing law on Hilton Head Island and in Beaufort County. If in fact that’s what they’re doing, which I don’t know that it is, but if it is, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen it.”
Support from the Stars & the Global Community
Perhaps this modern context to the issues of land inequality – combined with Wright’s determination and charming personality – is what caught the attention of several Black celebrities, as well as friends and strangers all over the world on GoFundMe. Notable contributors have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Wright’s cause, including:
Altogether, the GoFundMe exceeded its goal of $350,000 and stands at $365,905 as of November 2023. Wright said that she’ll use any money that doesn’t go to legal fees to fund the education of children in her outstretching family tree.
And this is where the David and Goliath real estate story takes the slingshot turn. As of September 2023, the lawsuit has moved to mediation with the potential outcome being that BPI won’t get the injunction or damages they had in mind.
Whether and what settlement Wright and BPI may reach is unknown, but the outpouring of support for Wright shows that when we need help, there are still good neighbors out there willing to lend a hand. I don’t get to say this often about a property dispute, but prospects are hopeful. It may not be real estate law holiday cheer, but it’s a comforting reminder that most of us just want to help.