Pete and Marie Dorso say the trouble started soon after Elton D. Smith moved next door to their stone Randallstown home.
The couple - a black woman and an Italian-American man - said their new neighbor called them racist names, told them he wanted them to move and let his car idle under their window until fumes seeped into their home.
"It's stunning, but things like this still happen," said Pete Dorso, 47, who with his wife recently won a judgment against the neighbor from the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings.
Smith agrees that the trouble started in 1996, soon after he bought his 1,500-square-foot home on Briarstone Road. But Smith, a 52-year-old black man, denies any racism. He said the problem between neighbors started when he angered the Dorsos by ripping up a flower bed planted by previous owners of his home.
"They've been telling lies," he said. "I'm a quiet person. I mind my own business. I just want people to leave me alone."
The Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings sided squarely with the Dorsos, however, finding Smith liable for ongoing racial harassment.
An administrative law judge fined Smith $5,000 for his actions, according to an announcement sent out this week by the Maryland Commission on Human Relations.
The judge also ordered him to pay the Dorsos more than $5,000 for costs they incurred during the dispute, such as building a wooden fence to keep Smith away from their home.
"It was clear from his language and his behavior that he did not approve of their relationship and wanted them to move," said Tracy E. Ashby, the assistant general counsel for the human relations commission.
Ashby represented the Dorsos at the hearing that led to the administrative decision July 21. Smith has until the end of this month to appeal.
For the Dorsos, the decision is the first step toward relief in what Pete Dorso described as a "devastating" situation.
He and his wife moved from New York to the Briarstone Road home in December 1990, about the time they married, he said. They loved the stone house, he said, and they enjoyed their neighbors.
But when Smith moved in, he said, everything changed.
He called them "zebra," and drove his cars loudly in his back yard when the Dorsos had friends visiting, Dorso said. Dorso said Smith once looked at him and his wife and said: "You're black, he's white, I want you to move."
Smith, who attended the hearing, said that the Dorsos are lying and that he has been "shafted" by the justice system. He said it is the Dorsos who are trying to force him out. "I'm not that type of person," he said.