“My neighbour liked to have a smoke in his backyard. Whenever I sat on my deck, even if I just opened the back windows, I smelled cigarettes. I was stressed about saying something. I decided to arrange a meeting. I made notes in advance, which helped me stay calm. My neighbour said he didn't realize the smoke affected me. He committed to smoke only in his front yard (where it wouldn’t impact me). I’m so glad we talked! I’m able to enjoy my deck and keep my windows open again.”
– Deana, Coquitlam, BC
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.
Don’t assume your neighbour knows there’s a problem
Your neighbour may be doing something that’s bothering you. But they may not be aware they're disturbing you or how frustrated you are about the issue — whether it’s second-hand smoke, a noise issue, a fence in need of repair, or some 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. We explain 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. You're drawn 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 in the moment probably isn’t the best idea. Give yourself some time to calm down and collect your thoughts.
Before you contact your neighbour, take time to note:
- What the problem is. Describe the problem. Note any specific incidents and when they happened. For example: your neighbour’s dog barked for more than an hour on four days last week.
- Why the problem is bothering you. For example: you aren't able to concentrate because of the barking, and it's even interrupting meetings you take part in from home.
- Your neighbour’s perspective. Put yourself in your neighbour’s shoes to see if you can understand their perspective. 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 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 in 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 may work for both of you.
You can use this template to help you prepare. Getting ready for the conversation in this way can help you feel calm, prepared, and confident.
Gather material in support
If you have any photos, videos, or recordings of the problem, gather them in support of your complaint.
You can also look up local bylaws. Many cities and towns have rules about issues involving neighbours. You can search your municipality’s bylaws to see if any apply to your situation. Save any relevant bylaw so you can show it to your neighbour.
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 and any supporting material 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 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 bylaw.
- 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.