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Noise and Neighbours - Work out problems

Work out problems

Step 1. Talk with your neighbour

Your neighbour’s noise is just too much. There’s no escaping it and you’re frustrated. But at the same time you want to keep things civil between the two of you (after all, you’re neighbours). What can you do? 

The first step is to talk with them. Your neighbour may not actually be aware that the noise is disturbing you or causing a problem. Maybe they have a new baby. Or maybe they don’t hear the high-pitched whining their old TV makes because they’re a bit hard of hearing. They may simply not realize how loud, irritating, or disturbing you’re finding the noise. 

That said, raising the issue directly with your neighbour may not be easy. To prepare for the conversation, think about how to talk to your neighbour. Discussing the matter with your neighbour calmly and respectfully can be a good start, and might just resolve the matter right away. 

If there’s a particular noise that’s bothering you, describe it and explain how and why it bothers you. If you have a specific type of work situation (for example, you work from home or you sleep during the day because you work at night), tell your neighbour. This can help them understand where you’re coming from and why you want the noise to stop. Ask for their thoughts. Invite them to talk about options that will work for both of you. You can follow up in writing if you and your neighbour reach an agreement.   

Talking to your neighbour is a good first step. To help you prepare for the conversation, we offer tips for talking with your neighbour and a template for preparing for the talk.

Step 2. Document your noise complaint

If talking with your neighbour didn’t work (or isn’t a possibility) but their noise is still disturbing you, gather evidence to support your noise complaint. You might:

  • Record the noise. Measure the dB level with a sound meter or a phone app.
  • Make notes. Keep a log of the date, time, type of noise, and the impact on you.
  • Seek backup. See your doctor about the impact the noise might be having on you. Or have a friend or family member come over, listen to the noise, and make notes of what they heard.
  • Do research. Check your local noise control bylaws, strata bylaws, or other noise-related laws.
  • Hire an acoustic engineer. Have them come measure the noise level. They can then compare it to normal levels, identify where the noise is coming from, suggest changes, and write it all up in a report. 

Stay organized. Keep all your evidence in one place, like in a file folder or on your phone or computer. 

Step 3. Write a letter to your neighbour

Once you’ve gathered evidence to support your noise complaint, write a letter to your neighbour setting out your concerns. For example, say your upstairs neighbour plays loud music several hours a day and also late into the night. In the letter, you could: 

  1. Explain your specific concerns and the impact on you. For example: the music your neighbour plays is so loud you can hear the words. You work from home, can’t concentrate, and often develop headaches. At night, you can’t sleep, even with earplugs. 
  2. Provide evidence of the noise. Give your neighbour a copy of the noise log you’ve been keeping. Attach your local noise laws, bylaws, or rules.
  3. Suggest ways the situation might be resolved. Ask your neighbour if they can try headphones. Or can they invest in some sort of soundproofing, like a rug or curtains? If your neighbour is a tenant, you could ask the property owner to look into more structural soundproofing. 
  4. Describe what will happen if they outright refuse. You will (for example) contact the appropriate housing authority. This could be the landlord or strata council, your local municipality, or the police. Or you’ll start a legal action.

We have 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 about the noise. Each letter can be adapted to your situation. 

Step 4. 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 a court 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 5. Contact your property manager, strata council, or landlord

If mediation isn’t successful or practical in the circumstances, you can write a letter to your:

  • building manager or concierge (if, for example, you live in a co-op or a strata),
  • property manager or strata council, if you live in an apartment, condo, or townhome you own, or
  • landlord, if you’re a tenant.

In your letter, describe your noise complaint. This is much like the letter to your neighbour (see the section above). Explain your concerns and give evidence of the noise. Describe how you’ve tried to resolve the matter with the neighbour and what outcome you’re seeking with help from your building manager, strata council, or landlord. 

If you live in a strata

Your strata council is ultimately responsible for investigating and responding to your bylaw complaints. They have a legal duty to enforce the strata bylaws and to make fair and reasonable decisions. If they fail to investigate a complaint and enforce the noise bylaws, they may have to pay you compensation.

When you send your letter to the strata council or property management company, the law says they must:

  • present it to the strata council at a properly convened council meeting, and
  • give the neighbour written details about the complaint. 

The letter should include an invitation to either respond to the complaint or attend a council hearing.

If the strata ultimately finds that the noise bylaw or rule has been broken, they could give your neighbour a warning or a fine (up to $200 per incident if the strata’s bylaws permit this maximum fine). Or, the strata could do what is reasonably necessary to fix the problem and then ask your neighbour to pay for the reasonable costs of doing so.

The BC government website sets out steps of enforcement that a person with a strata bylaw complaint (including noise) can take. The BC Office of Housing and Construction Standards has a complaint resolution guide which has information about dealing with strata bylaw complaints, including noise.

If you’re a tenant

If you have a noise complaint, you can write a letter to the landlord for help. Standard rental and lease agreements usually contain a clause about quiet enjoyment. This clause gives you the right to live in your rental home in peace, quiet, and privacy. It also requires that you (and any children you have) don’t unreasonably disturb your neighbours.

As a tenant, you can use the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre’s template letter to write a letter to the landlord to explain how your right to quiet enjoyment has been affected. 

Your landlord must investigate your noise complaint. If they’re aware of the noise and don’t take reasonable steps to protect your right to quiet enjoyment, you can take them to dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch. If you prove your claim, you could get monetary compensation.

Step 6. Contact your local municipality

If your neighbour’s noise continues, contact your municipality. If there’s a local bylaw dealing with noise that’s being broken, you can file a complaint.

For example, in Vancouver, construction on private property can occur between certain hours from Monday to Saturday, but isn't permitted on Sundays. If your neighbour has been doing construction on their property for the past three Sundays (for example), you can file a complaint with the city. 

Usually, the municipality’s bylaw enforcement officer will try to solve the problem informally. If they can’t, they could give your neighbour a fine. Fines vary by municipality and type of noise. For instance, in the city of Vancouver, the neighbour could receive a fine of at least $500 for violating local bylaws about construction.

To file a complaint with your local municipality, call 311. Or fill out an online form on your municipality’s website (if available). Generally, you must provide your contact information but it is kept confidential.

Step 7. Contact the police

If your neighbour is causing a disturbance — especially late in the evening or on a weekend — call the non-emergency police line to report it. Try to do so while the noise is actually happening. But also consider whether it’s worth it. Calling the police can escalate the conflict with your neighbour.

Step 8. 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 noise but it continues to disturb your peace and quiet, you can start a nuisance action. If you’re a tenant, you can file a claim in the Residential Tenancy Branch.

But think carefully about this option. Taking legal action (especially court action) can be a long, expensive, and stressful process. And there’s no guarantee you’ll win. For example, a noise may be permitted by zoning or custom (in an industrial or agricultural area). Or a court or tribunal may decide that there isn’t enough evidence of a nuisance.

If you do prove your claim, you may get an order for compensation. The court or tribunal can also order other remedies, like requiring the neighbour to stop the noise. Or the strata might be told to hire a structural engineer.

If your claim is for less than $5,000 (or is a strata dispute), you can bring it to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This online system is inexpensive and encourages a collaborative approach to resolving disputes through use of a "solution explorer" and a mediation component.

If your claim is for 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. But, consider this option in a very serious case only (as compensation generally in neighbour nuisance cases is not high).

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 as a last resort.