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Options for Dealing with a Problem with Your Neighbour

Jurisdiction: 
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed: 
June 2020
Time to read: 
5 minutes

“My upstairs neighbour regularly sang karaoke late into the evening. I tried earplugs but still couldn't sleep. I invited my neighbour over for a coffee. I explained how the noise was affecting me, and how I had to get up early for work. I played a recording of their karaoke. My neighbour said they had no idea how loud it was. They were very apologetic. They now only do karaoke earlier in the evening — and more quietly. I’m glad we talked. 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.

“My upstairs neighbour regularly sang karaoke late into the evening. I tried earplugs but still couldn't sleep. I invited my neighbour over for a coffee. I explained how the noise was affecting me, and how I had to get up early for work. I played a recording of their karaoke. My neighbour said they had no idea how loud it was. They were very apologetic. They now only do karaoke earlier in the evening — and more quietly. I’m glad we talked. 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

If something has come between you and your neighbour, consider whether any self-help steps you can take might ease the problem. For example, to deal with an overhanging tree, you can follow the self-help rule and cut the overhanging branches back to your neighbour's property line. Or if you have a noise problem, you might try wearing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.

Option 2. Talk with your neighbour

It's almost always a good idea to try talking with your neighbour about your concerns. They may not be aware there’s an issue or how frustrated you are about it — whether it’s a noise complaint, second-hand smoke, a fence in disrepair,  or some other problem. Talking with your neighbour calmly and respectfully can often resolve the matter quickly.

That said, raising a problem directly with your neighbour may not be easy. To help you get ready for the conversation, 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 an expert who can provide backup that there's a problem (for example, you might hire an arborist to document a high-risk tree, or visit a doctor to confirm that second-hand smoke is affecting your health)
  • ask a friend or family member to come over and make notes of their observations
  • do some research into any local bylaws that are in play (for example, a neighbour's fence might not meet the requirements of your community's fence bylaw)

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.

On the Mediate BC website, you can search for a mediator based on the community you live in and the type of problem you have. Selecting “Community” under Practice Areas can help narrow your search. 

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 contact your municipality, you can call 311 or visit their website. Here is contact information for municipalities across the province.

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 to support your claim.

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. 

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