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What are common neighbour disputes?

Neighbours having a dispute at the door.
Photo: iStock

Neighbour disputes can arise from a variety of circumstances. The best way to tackle a dispute with a neighbour is to talk it out and find a mutually agreeable solution. If the dispute is not resolved through constructive talks, there are legal remedies to address them. Note that suing a neighbour in court may be a lengthy, stressful, and costly process, but it is an option to exercise when all else fails.

The most common types of neighbour disputes arise from:

  • Untidy premises;
  • Nose complaints;
  • Mishandling of dogs and other pets;
  • Trespass; and
  • Issues regarding trees and hedges.

Untidy premises

If the neighbour has garbage, unwanted furniture, abandoned vehicles, or other such junk lying around, or has an overgrown yard, talk to them about it first.

If not successful, you may call your municipality to ask for help. Almost all cities and towns have a municipal bylaw that requires property owners to keep their property in decent condition and maintain it reasonably. This means the municipality can send a bylaw enforcement officer to inspect the property. Your neighbour may be prosecuted by the city, and receive a fine if they don’t comply with the bylaw within a reasonable time. If the municipality has to take things into its own hands and clean the property up, the owner will be billed for it.

Noise complaints

These are very common. If your neighbour is producing a lot of noise because of their pets, heavy duty equipment, loud parties, or blasting music, again talk to them about it in a non-confrontational way first. If the noise persists, you may call your municipality. Every municipality also has bylaws on controlling noise on premises.  Your neighbour may be prosecuted and be fined if they don’t comply with the bylaw.

If the noise is too much too handle, such as persistent shouting or screaming, call the police. Your neighbour may be charged for “common disturbance” under the Criminal Code as a result.

If the noise can be shown to be a nuisance, you can sue your neighbour in a civil action in court to seek damages. You have the burden of proof to show how the noise created a nuisance and what losses (property or otherwise) it caused.

Dogs (and other pets)

Municipalities also have bylaws that set out obligations for pet owners to keep them on leash or pick up after them, etc. Additionally, there may be bylaws that require aggressive dogs to be muzzled or be kept indoors.

If your neighbour’s dogs are let out without a leash, or your neighbour doesn’t clean up after them, you may resort to your municipality bylaw enforcement office again. You may ask that a bylaw officer visit the site to make a determination.  If the dog owner fails to meet the requirements under the bylaw, they may receive a hefty fine.

Make sure to take pictures if possible to be able to substantiate your case.

Additionally, if you see a neighbour abusing a pet, call the police or the animal control body in your municipality.

Similarly, if you see your neighbour’s dog attacking someone, call the police. If the animal hurts someone, the owner may be fined and sued for damages.

Trespass

If you neighbour trespasses on your property without reason, and without your consent, they may be prosecuted under provincial legislation, under common law, and under the Criminal Code.

All provinces have provincial laws on trespass. In most jurisdictions, the onus is on the trespasser to show why they thought they had permission to be on their neighbour’s property. If the boundaries are in dispute, an action should be brought before court to determine the proper boundary lines.  Violating provincial laws of trespass often comes with fines.

Trespass may also result in a tort action where you sue your neighbour for damages. You have to show how their trespass has caused a loss of enjoyment of your property or another type of property or bodily damage.

Finally, the Criminal Code makes it an offence to loiter or prowl at night around dwellings. You may call the police if you notice such conduct on your property.

Trees and hedges

If your neighbour’s tree extends onto your property, you may cut the portion that is on your portion of the land up to the legal boundary line.  If their tree roots go under your property and damage your pipes or other infrastructure, you may sue them under the common law tort of “nuisance.”

If your neighbour’s tree falls on your roof or causes other damages, your neighbour is only responsible if you can show they were negligent in maintaining the tree, and as a result the tree caused damages to your property. You can bring a civil action and seek damages.

Read more:

British Columbia: Neighbour Law

Trespassing on someone's property