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Everyday Legal Problems
Our Work It Out pages offer in-depth, step-by-step guidance for dealing with a legal problem from start to finish.
Easy-to-read Need to Know pages offer tips and highlights.
Learn tips to help you talk with your neighbour.
Learn steps you can take if you have a problem with your neighbour.
“My upstairs neighbour regularly sang karaoke late into the evening. I tried earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones but they didn’t work for long. I had a quick talk with my neighbour about the problem. I even played a recording of how loud the singing was from my apartment. Things got better for a little while, but then the loud karaoke started again. I wrote a letter and attached a copy of the local bylaws, showing that he could face a fine. My neighbour was very apologetic. He’s now agreed to keep the volume way down and only do karaoke earlier in the evening. I’m glad we were able to reach an agreement. My neighbour can sing, I’m finally able to get some sleep, and we’re still on good terms!”
— Edwin, Victoria, BC
If you have a problem with your neighbour, there are steps you can take. Your best course of action will depend on several factors. These include the nature of the problem, what your relationship with your neighbour is like, and how successful you think a particular step might be. You don’t have to go through these options in order. You can start with any of them.
Option 1. Consider self-help steps
You might have a noise, fence, tree, or other problem that’s come up between you and your neighbour. Consider whether there are any self-help steps you can take to help deal with the problem. For example, you can follow the self-help rule for dealing with an overhanging tree branch. That is, you can cut back your neighbour’s overhanging branches or dig up the roots up to the property line. Or, if you have a noise problem, try wearing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.
Option 2. Talk with your neighbour
Self-help methods can be helpful, but if they don’t work, try talking with your neighbour. They may not be aware there’s a problem. And they may not know how frustrated you are about the issue — whether it’s a loud noise, an overhanging tree branch, second-hand smoke, or other problem. Talking with your neighbour calmly and respectfully is a good first step, and might just resolve the matter quickly.
But raising a noise problem directly with your neighbour may not be easy. To get ready for the conversation, think about how to talk to your neighbour. We offer tips for talking with your neighbour and a template for preparing for the talk.
Option 3. Document the problem
If talking with your neighbour doesn’t work (or isn’t possible) and the problem is still bothering you, gather evidence. For example, you can:
- take photos or make videos to document the problem
- keep a dated journal or log of incidents and conversations with your neighbour
- consult and, if necessary, hire an expert who can help you document the problem (for example, a doctor, land surveyor, arborist, or engineer)
- ask a friend or family member to come over and make notes of their observations
- do some research and get a copy of any relevant laws or bylaws
To keep organized, try to keep all your evidence in one place, like in a file folder or on your phone or computer.
Option 4. Write a letter to your neighbour
Once you’ve gathered evidence documenting the problem, write a letter to your neighbour setting out your concerns. We offer a short template letter to help get you started. We also have a more detailed template letter you can fill out and give to your neighbour. Though these letters are about noise complaints, each letter can be adapted to your specific neighbour problem.
Option 5. Try a dispute resolution service
If you’re unable to resolve the matter directly with your neighbour, consider mediation. This involves you and your neighbour meeting with a neutral third party (a mediator) who’ll work to help you reach an agreement. Mediation is quicker and much less expensive than taking legal action. And it can help preserve a good neighbourly relationship.
We offer a template letter you can fill out and give to your neighbour to suggest mediation.
You can also look into whether your municipality has a local community mediation program. For example, there is the Burnaby Mediation Centre and the North Vancouver Community Mediation Services Society.
Option 6. Make a complaint to your local municipality
If the problem with your neighbour continues, you might contact your municipality. Depending on the type of problem, there may be a local bylaw in play. There are bylaws, for example, relating to fences, trees, noise, and other neighbour issues. If there is a relevant bylaw, you can file a complaint with your municipality. The municipality can investigate and has the authority to give fines.
To file a complaint with the city, call 311, or fill out an online form on your municipality’s website (if available). Generally, you must provide your contact information but it is kept confidential.
Option 7. Take legal action
If none of the options above have resolved the problem, it may be time to consider legal action. If you’d told your neighbour about the problem but it continues to disturb your peace and quiet, you can start a legal action, for example, in nuisance.
Taking legal action (especially court action) can be a long, expensive, and stressful process. There’s no guarantee you’ll win. For example, a court or tribunal may decide there isn’t enough evidence of a nuisance.
If your claim is for less than $5,000, you can bring it to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This online system encourages a collaborative approach to resolving disputes.
If your claim is for less than $35,000, you can bring a legal action in Small Claims Court. This is faster and less complicated than suing in the British Columbia Supreme Court.
Taking legal action against a neighbour will almost certainly strain your relationship — no small matter since you’re living next to one another. Think of it, therefore, as a last resort.