Do you need to talk to your neighbour about a noise, fence, tree, or other problem that’s come up between you? Maybe you’ve been meaning to have that talk but aren’t sure how to bring up the issue. Or maybe you’re worried about approaching your neighbour. Learn tips to help you talk with your neighbour.
“Whenever I opened my windows or went out on the back deck, I smelled cigarettes. My neighbour liked to have a smoke in his backyard. But this meant I wasn’t able to enjoy my deck — or even open the windows! I didn’t really know my neighbour, and I was stressed about approaching him. I decided to arrange a meeting with my neighbour. It went pretty well — my neighbour took my concerns seriously. He said he would smoke when he went for a walk or in his front yard (where it wouldn’t impact me). I’m glad we talked — I’ve been able to enjoy time on my deck and keep my back windows open again.”
– Deana, Coquitlam, BC
Don’t assume your neighbour knows there’s a problem
Your neighbour may be doing something that’s bothering you. But, they may not actually be aware they're disturbing you or causing a problem. And they may not realize how frustrated you are about the issue — whether it’s a loud noise, an overhanging tree branch, second-hand smoke, a fence in need of repair, or other problem. Talking with your neighbour is a good first step and might just resolve the matter quickly.
Think about your relationship with your neighbour
You live near your neighbour. You see them on a regular basis. As far as you know, neither of you has plans to move any time soon. You don’t want to rock the boat too much because it’s less stressful (and more peaceful) to live among neighbours who like and respect each other. Having an ongoing relationship with your neighbours is an important consideration when trying to figure out how to deal with a problem that’s come up between you.
You don’t have to talk with your neighbour before taking more formal steps
Sometimes informal steps don’t fit the situation. You may find your neighbour intimidating, unapproachable, or unavailable. You might prefer writing a letter or contacting your municipality, rather than talking with your neighbour. That’s up to you. Learn about these and other options for dealing with a problem with your neighbour. You can start with whatever step best fits your situation.
Step 1. Prepare for the conversation
Imagine your neighbour’s dog has been barking on and off for several hours. Suddenly, you want to knock on your neighbour’s door and tell them exactly how irritated you are. While letting off some steam may make you feel better in the short-term, approaching your neighbour at that moment probably isn’t the best idea. As frustrated as you are, give yourself some time to calm down and collect your thoughts.
Before you contact your neighbour, take time to make notes of these points:
- What the problem is (including any specific examples). Describe the problem. If relevant, make a note of any specific incidents and when they happened. For example, your neighbour’s dog barked steadily for more than an hour on each of four days last week, and so on.
- Why the problem is bothering you. For example, you may be unable to concentrate because of your neighbour’s noise. The stress and anxiety you feel is affecting other parts of your life — your health, your job, and your interactions with others.
- What the problem is — from your neighbour’s perspective. Put yourself in your neighbour’s shoes to see if you can understand their perspective and what’s important to them. For example, perhaps your neighbour is at work when their dog barks and doesn’t know about the problem. Or, maybe they’ve grown used to the barking and don’t realize it's disturbing the neighbours.
- What you and your neighbour have in common. Identify common interests you and your neighbour share. For example, you both value peace and quiet when using your homes.
- The solution you want. Perhaps you want the dog to stop barking (at least for long periods of time) during the day. Try to think of solutions, and paths to those solutions, that you want and that may work for both of you.
You can also research municipal bylaws. Many cities and towns have rules about issues involving neighbours. Check your municipality’s local bylaws. See if any apply to your situation. You can print them out or have them available on your phone to show your neighbour, if needed.
If you have any photos, videos, or recordings (as the case may be) of the problem, gather them in support of your complaint.
You can use this template to help you make notes and prepare for a conversation with your neighbour. Keep your notes and any other documents in one place, like in a file folder or on your phone or computer.
Getting ready for the conversation with your neighbour in this way can help reduce anxiety and help you feel calm, prepared, and confident. It can also help you come up with possible solutions to get the outcome you want.
Step 2. Arrange a date and time to meet
Once you’ve had a chance to prepare, arrange a time and place to meet with your neighbour.
Plan carefully how you want to reach out. Let your neighbour know you’d like to speak with them about a problem. Suggest options for when and where to meet. Try to pick times you think both you and your neighbour will be calm and relaxed. Neither of you will be in the right frame of mind to talk if you’re under stress or time constraints.
Step 3. Have the conversation with your neighbour
When it’s time to meet with your neighbour, take your notes (whether on paper or on your phone) and any other documents with you. Take a few deep breaths as you head to the meeting.
Be friendly and introduce yourself if you haven’t already met. A little bit of humour and small talk can help break the ice. When you’re ready, be calm, polite, and respectful. Here’s a sequence you might follow:
- Diplomatically explain what the problem is. For example, “I’m not sure if you know this, but Bailey barks much of the day when you’re at work.”
- Explain why the problem is bothering you. For example, “I work from home and it’s really hard for me to concentrate. It takes me longer to finish my work and I’m pretty worn out by the end of the day.”
- Stick to the facts. For example, “Yesterday, Bailey started barking at 9:15 am after you left and didn’t stop until 10:30 am. Then he started again at 11:00 and didn’t stop until noon...”
- Share any evidence you’ve gathered. For example, you could play a recording you have of the dog’s constant barking. And you could show your neighbour a copy of any relevant noise bylaws.
- Raise your common interests. For example, “Our neighbourhood is peaceful and quiet. This is one of the main reasons we both enjoy living here.” And, “I know we both love animals — you have Bailey, and I have my cat Patch.”
- Suggest solutions and invite your neighbour’s input. For example, “I’ve tried wearing ear plugs, but they’re not a long-term solution. So I looked online and found some advice about training dogs. Here’s what I found. What do you think?”
- Discuss a timeline to check-in. For example, “Do you mind if we check in about this in two weeks?”
Do’s and don’ts during the conversation
During the conversation, it’s important not to yell, blame, or threaten your neighbour. This can escalate the situation rather than resolve it. If you are too frustrated to continue the conversation, consider telling your neighbour you’d like to continue your meeting another day, or switch to written communication.
At the end of the conversation, consider thanking your neighbour for their time, understanding, and willingness to work together to resolve the problem.
Step 4. Make notes of your conversation
Either during or after the conversation with your neighbour, make detailed notes of what each of you said, as well as the date and time you spoke. Also make a note of the outcome and any timelines you agreed on. For example, your neighbour indicated they would try various options to reduce their dog’s barking. You agreed to talk again in two weeks to touch base.
Step 5. Follow up in writing
After talking with your neighbour, it’s a very good idea to provide them with a written summary of the conversation, including the date and time and what was discussed. You can also set out other information, including:
- the outcome (including any agreement reached)
- any timelines agreed on
- any courses of action each of you agreed to take
- a proposal for a date for a follow-up meeting
You can provide your summary by email or letter. It’s best to do so as soon as possible after your meeting. If the issue isn’t resolved, this brief record of the discussion may be helpful down the road if you have to consider other options.
If you’re unable to resolve the matter directly with your neighbour, you might consider mediation. Mediate BC keeps a searchable list of mediators in British Columbia.
Call 1-877-656-1300 (toll-free)
PovNet has a searchable list of legal advocates experienced with providing legal information. They work in certain areas (for example, housing) and can help with negotiation, writing letters, filling out forms, and more.
Other options for legal help include pro bono services and legal clinics. See our options for free and low-cost legal help.