Step 1. Talk with your neighbour
Whether you’re thinking of building a fence or you’re concerned about a neighbour’s fence, the first step is to try talking with your neighbour. Explain your plans or concerns, and ask for their thoughts.
If you’re the fence builder, start by explaining why you want it. (It's hard to argue against, say, a fence intended to keep children safe.) Describe the type of fence you’re planning, its location, and its estimated cost. If you aim to put it right on the property line, you need your neighbour’s consent (see above under “What you should know”). Invite the neighbour to explore options that will work for both of you.
If you have issues with a neighbour’s fence — for example, it’s too high or it intrudes onto your property — explain your concerns. If your neighbour understands where you’re coming from, it can be easier to explore solutions together.
If you want to build or repair a fence, it can help to get a written cost quote from one to three contractors. That way, you and your neighbour have concrete options to consider. If the neighbour agrees to proceed, you can both sign a copy of the successful quote and the amount you each agree to pay. This can prevent problems down the line.
Step 2. Write a letter to your neighbour
If talking with your neighbour doesn’t resolve matters, you can write a letter setting out your plans or concerns. For example, say you’re concerned with the height of a neighbour’s planned new fence. In your letter to your neighbour:
- Explain your concerns. For example: the fence is higher than what is allowed under the local bylaws, and it will block the sunshine on your vegetable garden.
- Suggest ways the situation might be resolved. For example: reduce the height of the fence by two feet.
- Reveal your intentions if they outright refuse. For example: you’ll get the municipality involved.
Step 3. Try mediation
If you're unable to resolve the matter directly with your neighbour, you could consider mediation. This involves you and your neighbour meeting with 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 have a page explaining how mediation works.
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 4. Contact your municipality
Whether you’re concerned about a neighbour’s fence or planning to build a fence, there can be circumstances that lead you to contact your local municipality. CivicInfo BC has contact information for municipalities across the province.
For example, you may suspect your neighbour’s fence doesn’t comply with local bylaws, such as rules about a fence’s height, materials or placement. In this case, find out who’s responsible for enforcing the relevant bylaw. After receiving your complaint, the municipality may inspect the problem and order your neighbour to fix it by issuing a notice of bylaw violation.
If, in building a fence, you want to do something that isn’t allowed under the local bylaws, you can seek a relaxation of the rules. This will require you to appear before your municipality’s “board of variance” to explain how the restriction in question causes you hardship.
Step 5. Consider legal action
If none of the above steps have resolved the problem, it may be time to consider legal action. For example, if your neighbour has built a fence that encloses part of your property, you could start an action for trespass. You could also apply to court for a resolution under this BC law. See “What you should know,” above, for what’s involved in this type of claim.
If your claim is for less than $35,000, you can bring a legal action in Small Claims Court. It’s faster and less complicated than suing in the British Columbia Supreme Court.
If your claim is for less than $5,000, you can file online with the Civil Resolution Tribunal. It's faster yet again, and designed to help parties resolve their dispute collaboratively.
Taking legal action against a neighbour will almost certainly strain your relationship — no small matter since you’re living side by side. Think of it, therefore, as a last resort.