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A dispute over garage in Covington’s Historic Licking Riverside district finally moving to appeals court

A dispute over garage in Covington’s Historic Licking Riverside district finally moving to appeals court

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

A property dispute in Covington’s Historic Licking Riverside district has neighbors in a feud that rivals the legendary Hatfield and McCoys – with the “bullets fired” being legal filings flying back-and-forth and stacking up as tall as the grand “Main House” Mansion.

Now that Kenton Circuit Judge Kathleen Lape, who has a reputation for moving at glacier speed, has actually issued a final opinion awarding the garage in question to the owners of the Main House, the stage is set for an appeal – now in progress – to a more neutral venue, the state Court of Appeals.

Hers is a decision that defies common sense and mostly ignores the arguments of “the other side” — the one without the chummy Kenton County courthouse connections. She, nevertheless, is running unopposed to maintain her seat on the bench.

The properties: Lorrie and Scott Hill’s pink Carriage House home on the left and Marc Tischbein-Peggy Rankin’s Main House (white) home on the right.

In the time in 2018 since Lorrie and Scott Hill purchased their dream home, a Carriage House at the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, and now, they have spent hundreds of thousands in legal fees to keep what their deed says they own – the Carriage House at 109 Shelby in Covington and two garages on their property.

Perhaps the delay was calculated to drive up the legal fees since Lape often admonished the Hills and their legal counsel that she “didn’t have time” to sign their documents or watch their videos or said “I’m not a playground monitor.” All this you can see on videos of Lape’s courtroom. And, the Hills say, there have been numerous taunts from the other side that boil down to — ‘don’t you just want to go away and avoid all these legal bills.’

On February 1, Judge Lape’s long-sought, final opinion awarded one of the garages on the Hills’ deed – by reason of “adverse possession” – to the owners of the Main House, Marc Tischbein and Peggy Rankin.

Read Judge Lape’s decision below to see that it recites at great length the arguments made by Tischbein-Rankin’s lawyers and barely acknowledges any contrary and/or contradictory arguments made by the Hills’ attorneys.

The issue is generally complicated – and over four years has been mean, sometimes petty, and fueled by courthouse cronyism and has grown uglier.

In 2018, the Hills wanted to return to Lorrie’s hometown after Scott’s open heart surgery and their successful careers in the east. She had an important government job before taking time off to raise two children and work from home. Scott Hill is a senior vice president with a publishing company in New York City, a job he continues remotely. Putting a long commute into NYC behind him, Scott could see the advantages of a slower-paced life. Their youngest child, a daughter, graduated from Notre Dame Academy – with honors – and is now a student at the University of Kentucky.

Lorrie dreamed of a home on the river and learned from David Klingshirn, a deacon in their Cincinnati church, that his Carriage House was for sale.

Little could either of the Hills have expected the tangled web of long personal relationships they were falling into in Northern Kentucky. Now, they have a greater understanding since others who looked at purchasing the property said they walked away because of the complicated relationships involved — of which the Hills were blissfully unaware.

Klingshirn, a retired Covington pharmacist, bought the Main House property at 420-422 Riverside Drive in 1986. He eventually partnered with his close friend Marc Tischbein, also a Covington businessman, in the purchase and renovation of the Main House and they lived there together through 1993. Klingshirn paid a larger portion of the expenses during that time.

In April 1993, Klingshirn, Tischbein, and Rankin, then Tischbein’s fiance, jointly purchased the Carriage House and ultimately constructed two garages abutting it, remodeled the home, and put in a driveway and gate shared by both properties. At that time, only Klingshirn was on the deed to the Main House.

The garages: on the left, the Carriage House garage, attached to the Carriage House. On the right is the disputed garage, attached to the Carriage House garage and “claimed” by Tischbein-Rankin though it appears on the survey as part of the Hills’ deed.

From 1993 to 2001, the three parties shared the properties and no written agreement existed between them, verbally changing the who-pays-what arrangements by mutual agreement as they went along. Then in 2001, they decided to re-align their ownership interests in the two properties. Tischbein and Rankin became sole owners of the Main House and Klingshirn became sole owner of the Carriage House and deeds depicted the boundary lines of the two properties. They had an unwritten agreement that at some point they would sell the property as one piece – and split the proceeds of the whole 50-50.

Mostly, over the next 17 years, their lives went on as they always had.

When Klingshirn turned 75, he wanted to reduce his living expenses and exercise the “gentleman’s agreement” with Tischbein that they would sell the two properties as they had agreed. Tischbein and Rankin didn’t want to sell and declined to buy the Carriage House because Klingshirn wanted too much for it.

And thus begins the terrific unraveling of a friendship.

Klingshirn put the Carriage House on the market with a real estate agent in 2017. The Hills ultimately paid $625,000 for a property listed for $725,000 and a survey of the property showed that the property had two garages and that no easements or agreements had been recorded otherwise.

In a deposition, Klingshirn said, “I think Marc thought he owned that garage because he parked there…”

Here is a portion of Klingshirn’s testimony filed in Lape’s court, though she doesn’t site it in her final opinion:

Q: At the time you exchanged deeds (with Tischbein/Rankin), did you understand that the ownership then of the second garage fell to you?

K: I would be a fool to say, I’m going to give you that, and I’m going to give you the big house, and I’m going to just end up with half a piece of property. No.

Q: Did you or did you not understand that the second garage was part of 109 Shelby when you executed those deeds?

K: 109 – both garages were on 109 Shelby.

Q: And did you know that at the time you signed the deeds?

K: Certainly.

The property survey. Click image to enlarge.

Klingshirn told the Hills that he had a “gentleman’s agreement” with Tischbein that the garage in question could be used by Tischbein. And he asked the Hills – once they had purchased the Carriage House if they would allow Tischbein to continue to use the garage under this “gentleman’s agreement.”

Since 2018, the Hills have paid property taxes on the property, which includes two garages, as well as insurance. Tischbein and Rankin have made no effort to do either.

When the Hills moved into the Carriage House, they offered Tischbein a “licensing agreement” to continue to use the garage but he refused. The Hills have emails showing he lamented the loss in value of his Main House property if he didn’t have off-street parking. At no time did he claim he owned the garage. Extensive email exchanges secured by the NKyTribune confirm this. But when he was asked to vacate their garage, he engaged an attorney, Peggy Rankin’s brother-in-law, to file a lawsuit against the Hills.

That was in August 2018, barely two months after the Hills purchased the Carriage House.

In a motion filed by the Hills’ attorneys in August 2018, they wrote: “Marc and Peggy’s belief (that they own the garage) appears to be newfound” as they never claimed to own one of the garages on the Carriage House lot. Their “adverse possession” argument also appears to be even more newfound since they also claimed to have a license to use the garage.

Again, there is no written agreement or recorded agreement on these matters between Klingshirn and Tischbein-Rankin. It would be interesting to know who suggested the “adverse possession” strategy so far into the proceedings, as their argument ranges from having a license to “adverse” possession, two contradicting legal principles. Perhaps that will be revealed in the Appeal proceedings.

The rancor escalates

Peggy Rankin has become increasingly angry, telling neighbors “they (the Hills) don’t belong here” and claiming close relationships in the Kenton County Courthouse that will protect her from “those people from Connecticut.”

The Hills filed one complaint against her for destroying their mailbox. She was convicted of criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, in the spring of 2019. More recently, the Hills filed a complaint against her for Disorderly Conduct 2nd degree, a misdemeanor offense, for harassing and threatening them (Commonwealth vs. Rankin, Peggy). Judge Lape told the Hills and their attorney that she didn’t have time to watch the videos. The prosecutor has settled that complaint with a misdemeanor as well — a small fine and court costs for Rankin for “misuse of horn” (see video below). More recently one evening, police were called when an inebriated Marc Tischbein attempted to goad Scott Hill into a fight.

Needless to say, there is no love lost between the neighbors living in this historic riverside preservation paradise.

‘Misuse of Horn’

The ‘tear it down’ solution

Meantime, the Hills decided to pursue a course of action that Klingshirn himself once postulated: “Tear down the garage if you want to so you can use your property at its highest and best advantage.” So they petitioned the Covington Board of Architecture Review & Development to do just that. (The old zoning board which Tischbein had long chaired is now part of this new board. Because of his history there, Tischbein was not appointed to the new, reorganized board).

The board granted their request because it complied with zoning requirements. Although Tischbein and Rankin objected, the board proceeded given that the garage is clearly on the Hills’ deed.

The Hills have toyed with a long-term plan to replace the garage with a Tiny House, which is now allowed in Covington and for which they will have to submit plans to the review board.

Tischbein and Rankin have responded with a lawsuit against them and the City of Covington, and that lawsuit now sits and waits for the outcome of the appeal process on the first lawsuit.

Tangled webs indeed.

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If you want to know more:

• Read Judge Kathleen Lapes’ decision in favor of “adverse possession” for Tischbein/Rankin

2022-02-01 Order Granting Summary Judgment

• Read the Hills attorney’s filing in April 2020 in Judge Lape’s court.

Hills lawyer response May 2020