Sarfaraz Ali owns a lakefront cottage south of Dunnville with a beautiful view of Lake Erie.
The only problem? He can’t get to it.
That’s because a fence now blocks the private road that leads to his seasonal home and two others at the end of Lakeview Line.
The fence, which Ali said was put up without warning in February, hems in his cottage, running along the sides and back of his property, and that of his neighbours.
The man who installed it told The Spectator he did so because he fears being held liable should anyone at the cottages — one of which is sometimes rented out as an Airbnb — be injured on his land.
“I’m not blocking the road. There’s no road. That’s my property,” said Oscar VanderHeide, a Dunnville-area resident who owns that section of Lakeview Line and a cottage on the north side.
VanderHeide also owns the land behind the last three cottages on Lakeview Line and the beach in front of them. The arrangement dates back to when the original cottages were transplanted to the area from a nearby air force training base, where they were used as barracks.
The current cottagers only own the land on which their cottages sit and a small yard facing the beach.
At Ali’s cottage, there is just room enough to walk in between the fence and one side of the home. On the other side, the fence is even closer to the building. Sitting on the back porch, the view of the lake is partially obstructed by a fence jutting out toward the water.
With the laneway blocked, the only way for Ali to get to his property is by boat — unless he squeezes through a gap in the fence and cuts across his neighbours’ lawns.
“There is no way we can have access to our home at all,” Ali told The Spectator, adding he was not contacted by VanderHeide before the fence was installed, and only learned of it because his security camera filmed the construction work.
“Otherwise, we wouldn’t even know,” Ali said. “All of a sudden it happened. We had no notice, nothing. If there’s any issue, they should give some notice and we can negotiate or something.”
For years, cottagers used VanderHeide’s land to access their properties and the adjacent beach, which he also owns.
“They used to park on my property. They used my property all the time, and it was never an issue,” VanderHeide said.
That changed once Ali started renting out his cottage as an Airbnb. Neighbours complained about cars “flying” down Lakeview Line and garbage strewn about.
“We get these young kids back there, drinking, carrying on, foul language. It’s just been horrible,” VanderHeide said.
“It used to be a nice little community of cottagers. But now it got turned into these Airbnbs, and these renters come in for the weekend and they go crazy.”
Ali and his partner bought their cottage in April 2021, intending to use it as a summertime getaway for them and their two children. To help cover the mortgage, he listed it with Airbnb. There are no restrictions on Airbnbs in Haldimand, and Ali said inspectors from the county visited and approved the property for short-term rentals.
“We haven’t done anything illegal,” Ali said, noting the cottage is properly insured and his property manager puts out the garbage and keeps the site neat and tidy.
“It was going really great for the first year. No problems. But then the neighbours started being a little off. They got kind of annoyed by the whole Airbnb thing,” said Yasr Zakko from Lodgr, the Vaughan-based property management company that oversees the cottage.
The Airbnb listing for the three-bedroom cottage, billed as the “Escape on the Lake,” promises “public or shared beach access,” but VanderHeide said that is misleading.
“There is no beach access. It’s 100 per cent mine. It’s private property,” he said.
“He’s never asked if he could use my beach or advertise my beach, and I just let it go. I’ve been as nice as I can be as a neighbour. But there’s always a limit.”
VanderHeide’s limit came during the ice storm that hit the Erie shoreline just before Christmas, when a couple and their young daughter had rented the cottage. The storm pulled down power lines, knocking out the electricity and forcing the family to rely on a generator.
Ice built up against the propane vent and the exhaust became trapped in the house, forcing the renters outside to their car.
They tried to leave but the road was blocked off by downed trees, and the family had to call 911 and have firefighters walk the full length of Lakeview Line to rescue them.
“That got me a little bit scared,” VanderHeide said. “If these people had died, who’s going to be liable for it? I allowed them to get there on my property. So I moved the fence.”
Ali has appealed to Haldimand County but was told nothing could be done. A county spokesperson told The Spectator the county’s hands are tied because the roadway is privately owned.
“Staff are aware of the matter, however, it is outside of the county’s jurisdiction as it is a right of access on private property issue and ultimately a civil matter between landowners,” Kyra Hayes said in an email.
Ali said the deed to the property and the land survey appear to include an easement allowing him use of the private road.
“From what we understood, we definitely have access to this property,” Zakko added.
But VanderHeide, who bought his land about a decade ago, said that is not the case.
“I have a deeded right of way for that whole road,” he said. “I haven’t done anything wrong or anything illegal. They knew that they didn’t have a deeded right of way when they bought the place.”
Some 20 homes further east along the single-lane road still have vehicular access to their properties. As for the three cottages behind the fence, VanderHeide said their owners can find another way.
“They can walk in or they can boat in,” he said.
“They’ve never contacted me to ask if they can use my property. I thought I’d get a thank-you note for all the years I let them use it for free.”
Left paying property taxes on a home he can’t easily access and worried his investment is now worthless, Ali said he is contemplating legal action but would rather not have to go that route.
“If they could remove the fence, that would make our life easier,” he said.