Options to deal with a neighbour problem

“My upstairs neighbour regularly played loud music late into the evening. I tried earplugs but still couldn't sleep. I invited my neighbour over for a coffee. I explained how I had to get up early for work. I played a recording. My neighbour said they had no idea how loud it was. They apologized. Now they play their music more quietly, and not after 10 pm. I’m glad we talked. I’m finally able to get some sleep, and we’re still on good terms.”

– Edwin, Victoria, BC

If you have a problem with a neighbour, there are steps you can take. Your best course of action will depend on several factors. These include the nature of the problem, what your relationship with your neighbour is like, and how successful you think a particular step might be. You don’t have to go through these steps in order. You can start with any of them.

Step 1. Consider self-help steps

If something has come between you and your neighbour, consider whether any self-help steps you can take might ease the problem. For example, to deal with an overhanging tree, you can follow the self-help rule and cut the overhanging branches back to your neighbour's property line. Or if you have a noise problem, you might try wearing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.

Step 2. Talk with your neighbour

It's almost always a good idea to try talking with your neighbour about your concerns. They may not be aware there’s an issue or how frustrated you are about it — whether it’s a noise complaint, second-hand smoke, a fence in disrepair, or some other problem. Talking with your neighbour calmly and respectfully can often resolve the matter quickly.

That said, raising a problem directly with your neighbour may not be easy. To help you get ready for the conversation, we offer tips for talking with your neighbour and a template for preparing for the talk.

Step 3. Document the problem

If talking with your neighbour doesn’t work (or isn’t possible) and the problem is still bothering you, gather evidence. For example, you can:

  • take photos or make videos to document the problem

  • keep a dated journal or log of incidents and conversations with your neighbour

  • consult an expert who can provide backup that there's a problem (for example, you might hire an arborist to document a high-risk tree, or visit a doctor to confirm that second-hand smoke is affecting your health)

  • ask a friend or family member to come over and make notes of their observations

  • do some research into any local bylaws that are in play (for example, a neighbour's fence might not meet the requirements of your community's fence bylaw)

To keep organized, try to keep all your evidence in one place, like in a file folder or on your phone or computer. 

Find a local bylaw

On the website CivicInfo BC, you can search across local government websites province-wide to find local bylaws for your community. In the search box, type in a keyword on point, the word bylaw, and your community name.

For example, to find a fence bylaw for Victoria, you could type fence bylaw victoria.

Step 4. Write a letter to your neighbour

Once you’ve gathered evidence documenting the problem, write a letter to your neighbour setting out your concerns. We offer 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. Though these letters are about noise complaints, each letter can be adapted to your specific neighbour problem. 

Step 5. 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 taking legal action. And it can help preserve a good neighbourly relationship. 

We offer a template letter you can fill out and give to your neighbour to suggest mediation.

Finding a mediator

You can search for a mediator based on the community you live in and the type of problem you have. On the ADR Institute website or the Mediate BC website, select community for the area of expertise or practice.

Step 6. Make a complaint to your local municipality

If the problem with your neighbour continues, you might contact your municipality. Depending on the type of problem, there may be a local bylaw in play. Most communities have bylaws, for example, relating to fences, trees, noise, and other issues that can come into play between neighbours. If there is a relevant bylaw, you can file a complaint with your municipality. The municipality can investigate and has the authority to give fines.

To contact your municipality, you can call 311 or visit their website. Here is contact information for municipalities across the province.

If none of the options above have resolved the problem, it may be time to consider legal action. For example, if you’ve told your neighbour multiple times about a noise problem but it continues to disturb your peace and quiet, you can start a legal action in nuisance

That said, taking legal action is generally a last resort. It can be a long, expensive, and stressful process. And there’s no guarantee you’ll win. A court or tribunal may decide there isn’t enough evidence to support your claim.

Plus, taking legal action against a neighbour will almost certainly strain your relationship — no small matter since you’re living next to one another.

If you decide to sue

If you do decide to bring a legal action, here's a primer on what's involved in starting a lawsuit. It explains that where you bring your claim depends in part on the amount of money involved.

If your claim is for less than $5,000, you can bring it to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This online system is designed to be used without a lawyer.

If your claim is for less than $35,000, you can bring a legal action in Small Claims Court.

Claims for more than $35,000 generally go to the BC Supreme Court.

  • Reviewed in April 2021
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

People's team, People's Law School

People's team

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