Overgrown grass and plants. An old rusted vehicle with flat tires. Broken furniture. Empty cans and bottles. And to top it off, garbage strewn throughout the yard. Does this remind you of a neighbour’s property? Learn how to deal with a neighbour’s untidy premises and other neighbourhood nuisances.
If your neighbour’s property is untidy
“My neighbour’s yard is a complete mess. The grass is knee-high, there's a rusted swing set and other equipment (even a car from the 1980s!), and lots of garbage and bottles strewn about. I offered to help my neighbour clean up his property but he kept putting it off. One day, I saw our mail carrier trip over a discarded item and hurt his leg. That was the last straw! I called the city. An inspector came and gave my neighbour a letter telling him he had to clean it up within 10 days. Another neighbour and I helped him transform his yard. The grass is now greener on the other side!"
– Rohan, Chilliwack, BC
Your neighbour’s property might be a horrible eyesore. But as much as you might want to, you can’t just go over there and tidy up without their permission. The law may be able to help, though. A neighbour's premises may be so untidy as to be a nuisance under the law. To rise to this level, their premises must unreasonably interfere with your right to use and enjoy your property.
When an untidy premises is a nuisance
Neighbours can’t tell other neighbours what to do (or not do) with their property. People can generally use their land as they like (though the law does set out certain restrictions). But does that mean their front yard can become a dumping ground?
The question is thorny. An untidy or unsightly property is a bit different from other kinds of neighbour problems. Noises and odours can drift into neighbouring properties and spoil your right to use and enjoy your home. But an untidy yard doesn't cross the property line. Even so, a seriously messy yard or balcony can be a “visual nuisance,” even though it doesn’t physically intrude into your space.
Worse still is if the garbage and wild overgrowth is attracting mice, insects, and other pests. Now their problem really is your problem. That “garden” growing over the length of the boundary line isn’t just unsightly: it’s a health hazard.
At this point you may be able to bring a nuisance claim against your neighbour because there’s an unreasonable interference with your right to use and enjoy your property. We explain what's involved below, under "Work out problems."
Other legal avenues may be available
Other options for how to proceed depend partly on the type of housing you live in — a condo, basement suite, or single-family home, and so on. Here’s information specific to a condo dweller and a tenant. Your options also depend on your local bylaws; we explain this next.
Many communities have local bylaws that deal with untidy premises
The law limits what people can do on, and with, their property. While this may be frustrating in some situations, it upholds standards of health and safety that benefit everyone.
Most BC communities have some version of a local bylaw to control garbage, junk, overgrown yards, or abandoned vehicles. These “unsightly premises” bylaws differ in the details. (Richmond’s, for example, addresses “excessive accumulation” of garbage and buildings tagged with graffiti. Vancouver’s requires that you meet the tidiness standards of other houses in the neighbourhood.)
A few municipalities (including Vancouver) prohibit property owners and residents from using certain kinds of outdoor lighting. So those bright, decorative LED carnival lights your neighbour installed may amount to a nuisance if they shoot a megawatt glow into your bedroom.
Several municipalities require property owners to routinely keep their place neat and tidy. It doesn’t matter who’s been throwing garbage on your lawn: it’s your problem now.
Under these types of bylaws, anyone can complain to the municipality about a neighbour’s untidiness. The municipality can issue fines or cleanup orders to the offending property owner.
For information on the untidy or unsightly premises bylaws in your community, call 3-1-1. You can also contact your local municipality directly, or check their website.
On CivicInfo BC, you can search across local government websites province-wide to find local bylaws relating to untidy or unsightly premises in your community. In the search box, type in “untidy premises bylaw [community name]”.
If water from your neighbour’s property causes interior damage
Drip, drip, drip. You look up and see water oozing from your ceiling. You get a bucket to catch it. Then you call upstairs to tell your neighbour about the leak and damage, mentally calculating the cost of new ceiling plaster.
If you live in a condo or a multi-family home, a water leak from your neighbour’s hot water tank, toilet, or kitchen sink might damage your ceiling. Worse, it might also damage your floor, carpet, furniture or other belongings.
It’s logical to believe that your neighbour is responsible for the cost of repairing the damage. After all, this isn’t your fault — the water’s coming from their place. But, in fact, it’s you (and your insurer) who have to pay for the repair costs to your home, unless one of the following applies:
- Your neighbour was negligent. If, say, they failed to deal with an old, leaky hot water tank they’d been advised to replace — and it finally bursts, damaging your ceiling — they could be responsible.
- Your neighbour committed a nuisance, or unreasonably interfered with your right to use and enjoy your property. So if your furniture is a write-off, for example, because your upstairs neighbour’s hot water tank burst, they could be responsible.
- There are specific terms about the responsibility for the cost of repairs or payment of an insurance deductible in your tenancy agreement, or strata bylaws.
On the last point, if you live in a condo, it’s important to check your strata’s bylaws. This is because a bylaw can, for example, make an owner responsible for damage that started in their strata lot, even if the owner didn’t do anything negligent. Or a strata bylaw can require the owner to pay the strata’s insurance deductible if common property was damaged.
As you can see, the matter can get murky pretty quickly. When you’re trying to figure out who’s responsible for the water damage to your home, check your strata’s bylaws if you live in a strata building. Or your tenancy agreement if you’re a tenant. (Your landlord must give you a copy of it.)
It’s a good idea, too, to get legal advice. We have information about options for legal help.
If the natural conditions of your neighbour’s land cause water damage
Water can also cause damage to the outside of your property. Maybe the run-off from your neighbour’s property has pooled in your backyard. Your rights are a little different in these kinds of situations.
If the water damage to your property is caused by the natural conditions of the land, your neighbour likely won’t be held responsible. For example, rainwater may run frequently from your neighbour’s sloping yard into yours, puddling on your grass and killing it. Your neighbour is not likely responsible for this.
But your neighbour may be responsible and have to pay you compensation if:
- they make a change to their property and the change causes damage to your property, or
- they are negligent. If your neighbour leaves their hose running for days after planting their garden, for example, and your property floods, they could be responsible.
Step 1. Consider self-help steps
When a problem has come up between you and your neighbour, there may be steps you can take to resolve things on your own. For example, strategic landscaping could block your view of their place. A new fence might stop grass and plants from spreading to your property.
Keep things civil. Let's say the issue is water flowing from your neighbour's property onto yours. Though it might make you feel better, building a little culvert that u-turns the water back onto their patio isn’t likely to improve the situation or your relationship with your neighbour.
Step 2. Talk with your neighbour
You may be frustrated about the unkempt way your neighbour’s property looks. (It’s driving down your property value!) You want the situation to improve, so what can you do?
A great start is to talk with your neighbour. They may not actually be aware that something they’re doing (or not doing) is causing a problem. Maybe they don’t know that the water runoff from their property has created a swamp in your backyard.
That said, you might be worried about a confrontation.Think about and plan for the conversation in advance.
Describe the particular problem and explain how it’s affecting you. Maybe their water leak is damaging your carpet, furniture or clothes. Ask for their thoughts. Explore options that could work for both of you.
Step 3. Document your complaint
If talking with your neighbour didn’t work (or isn’t possible) and the problem is continuing, gather evidence to support your complaint. You might:
- Take photos or a video. Snap time and date-stamped photos or a video of your neighbour’s unkempt, overgrown yard.
- Make notes. Keep a log of the nuisance. For example, note when you last saw your neighbour clean up their property.
- Seek backup. Have a friend or family member come over, take photos, and make notes of what they see or smell.
- Do research. Check your local bylaws, strata bylaws, or other related laws about untidy premises and water damage.
Stay organized. Keep all your evidence in one place, like in a file folder or on your phone or computer.
Step 4. Write your neighbour a letter
Once you’ve gathered evidence to support your complaint, write a letter to your neighbour setting out your concerns. For example, say your neighbour’s yard is not only messy, but also unsafe. In the letter, you could:
- Explain your specific concerns and the impact on you. For example: passersby are throwing garbage (including broken glass bottles) into your yard now, making it unsafe for your kids.
- Provide evidence of the problem. For example: attach photos of the garbage piling up over the last year in your yard.
- Suggest ways the situation might be resolved. For example: they can either throw out their garbage and mow their lawn themselves, or you can help them find someone who’ll do those jobs for them.
- Describe what will happen if they outright refuse. For example, you’ll contact the appropriate authority. (This could be the landlord or strata council, or your local municipality.) Otherwise, you’ll start a legal action.
We have a template letter you can fill out and give to your neighbour. The letter can be adapted to your situation.
Step 5. Try a dispute resolution service
If you’re unable to resolve the matter directly with your neighbour, consider mediation. This involves the two of you meeting with a neutral third party (a mediator). They’ll work to help you reach an agreement. Mediation is often quicker and less expensive than legal action. And it can help preserve a good neighbourly relationship.
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.
Step 6. Contact your local municipality
If the problem with your neighbour continues, consider contacting your municipality. If there’s a local bylaw dealing with untidy premises that’s being broken, you can file a complaint or ask the municipality to take action.
A bylaw officer will inspect the property and can issue a notice requesting the owner to clean up the property by a certain date. In some municipalities (like Vancouver and Port Moody), if your neighbour doesn’t clean up their property, the municipality may do it and send them the bill.
Your municipality may also issue your neighbour a fine. In Vancouver, for example, the fine for untidy or unsightly premises ranges between $250 and $10,000.
To file a complaint with your local municipality, call 3-1-1. Or contact your municipality directly. Many have complaint forms on their websites. Generally, when making a complaint, you must provide your contact information, but it is kept confidential.
Step 7. Consider legal action
If none of the steps above have resolved the problem, it may be time to consider legal action. If you’ve told your neighbour about the problem but it continues to interfere with your peace and quiet, you can start a nuisance action.
If you prove your claim, you may be able to get an order for compensation for the loss of use and enjoyment of your home. The court or tribunal can also order other remedies, such as requiring the neighbour to clean up their premises or pay for the cost of repair of water damage.
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 between $5,000 and $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 (especially court action) can be a long, expensive, and stressful process. There’s no guarantee you’ll win and it will almost certainly strain your relationship — no small matter since you’re living next to one another. Think of it as a last resort.
My neighbour’s property is a mess. Who can I report this to?
You can file a complaint with your local municipality by calling 3-1-1. Or contact your municipality directly. Many have complaint forms on their websites. Generally, when making a complaint, you must provide your contact information, but it is kept confidential.
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. Many have experience with housing issues and can help with negotiation, writing letters, filling out forms, and more.
Lawyer Referral Service helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consultation.
Call 1-800-663-1919 (toll-free)
Other options for free and low-cost legal help include pro bono services and legal clinics.