9 famous spite houses built to annoy the neighbors

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A “spite house” is a home built out of spite to annoy or get back at a neighbor. Spite houses are often oddly shaped, and they usually block a neighbor’s light or view. Many were built in the 18th and 19th centuries and are still occupied today.

9 famous spite houses

Old Spite House_Wikimedia Commons

1. One of the oldest spite houses in the country is named, appropriately, the Old Spite House. Thomas Wood built the Marblehead, Massachusetts, house in 1716 and the 300-year-old house still stands, blocking the view of two neighboring houses. The true story behind the reason for construction has been lost, but one tale is that two brothers lived together in the house despite not getting along, and neither would sell his share of the property to the other. Another version claims that Wood, upset at receiving a smaller plot of land from his father, built the house to spite his brothers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Montlake Spite House_Wikimedia Commons

2. Many spite houses are extremely small, as they are developed on an odd strip of land. One of the oddest constructions is the 1925 Montlake Spite House in Seattle, Washington, which is 15 feet wide in front and tapers to 4.5 feet in back. Its origins are likewise unclear. One legend asserts that it is the result of the former owner’s anger at his neighbor’s insultingly low offer for the land. A more dramatic story claims that a peculiar divorce settlement granted the house to the husband and the front yard to the wife, who decided to get revenge.

The house was listed last year at $397,500 and sold for an undisclosed price. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Skinny Spite House_Wikimedia Commons

3. The Skinny House, built some time in the 1870s, is the narrowest house in Boston, Massachusetts, at just 10.4 feet wide. Once again, the real story of origin is unknown, but popular lore holds that it is the result of a feud between two brothers who inherited property from their father after the Civil War. One brother built a large house, leaving only a small strip of land that was too small to build on – or so he thought. His brother retaliated by building a second, narrow house to block the light and the view.  Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Alameda Spite House_Wikimedia Commons

4. Charles Froling of Alameda, California, planned to build his dream house on a piece of land he inherited, but the city reclaimed a large chunk of his property to build a road, leaving him with an extremely narrow plot. He responded by building the 10-foot-wide Alameda Spite House, which dates from the early 20th century and, like other spite houses, blocks its neighbors’ light and view.  Photo: Wikimedia Commons

O'Reilly Spite House_Wikimedia Commons

5. The O’Reilly Spite House in West Cambridge, Massachusetts, was built in 1908 by Francis O’Reilly, who wanted to sell a thin strip of land to the owner of the adjacent plot. When his neighbor refused, O’Reilly built an 8-foot-wide house on the plot to annoy his neighbor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hollensbury Spite House_Flikr

6. One of the narrowest spite houses is the Hollensbury Spite House in Alexandria, Virginia, built in 1830. It is a mere 7 feet wide. The original owner, John Hollensbury, built it in an alley to stop foot traffic and horse-drawn carriages from disturbing him. Photo: Flikr

Richardson Spite House_Wikimedia Commons

7. The Richardson Spite House in New York, New York, is a generous 104 feet wide, but only 5 feet deep. In the 1880s, owner Joseph Richardson wanted to sell the land for $5,000 to the owner of the neighboring plot, who responded with a low counter offer of $1,000. Richardson rejected the deal and instead built an entire apartment building on the thin strip of land to prove its value. The building was demolished in 1915. Photo: Business Insider

Virginia City Spite House_Janis Masyk-Jackson

8. The Virginia City Spite House is the result of a 1950s dispute between two squabbling neighbors in Virginia City, Nevada. One man built a house and the other built a house next door, less than 12 inches away. The house, which blocks its neighbor’s view, recently sold for $245,000. Photo: Janis Masyk-Jackson

Tyler Spite House_Wikimedia Commons

9. Unlike many other tiny spite houses listed here, the 1814 Tyler Spite House is palatial. Dr. John Tyler of Frederick, Maryland, did not want the city to carry through with its plan to build a road through his land, so he started work on a large building that obstructed the proposed path. A local law prevented the city from building a road if construction was underway on a building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

So you want to build a spite house?

Good luck. Modern building codes and zoning restrictions have made it difficult, if not impossible, to get back at neighbors through construction. The good news is that these restrictions also apply to enemies who might otherwise build a spite house to spite you. If you suspect a neighbor of trying to build something to obstruct your view or light access, contact a lawyer in your state to see if you can prevent construction.

In the meantime, if you want to make a statement with your building, consider painting it, like the rainbow-colored “Equality House” did to annoy the Westboro Baptist Church, or consider erecting an offensive statue in your yard, as a Michigan man did last year when he aimed a statue of a middle finger at his ex-wife’s house next door.

Feature image photo credit: Joshua Lewis / KOMO News