Untidy premises and other neighbourhood nuisances

“My neighbour’s yard is a mess. The grass is knee-high, there's a rusted swing set and other equipment (even a car from the 1980s!), and garbage and bottles strewn about. I offered to help him 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, Delta, BC

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.

What you should know

If your neighbour’s property is untidy

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 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. We have 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, you can call 3-1-1. You can also contact your local municipality directly, or check their website.

Find a local bylaw on point

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 (or similar keywords) and the name of your community. For example, to find a bylaw for Kelowna, you could type untidy premises bylaw kelowna.

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. 

Who is responsible

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

If you live in a strata

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.

Work out problems

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 place to 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 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. Ask for their thoughts. Explore options that could work for both of you. 

To help you prepare for the conversation, we offer tips for talking with your neighbour. We also have a template to prepare for the talk.

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, water damage, or the issue in play. 

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, if your neighbour’s yard is not only messy, but also unsafe, here's what you might say in your letter. 

  • Explain your specific concerns and the impact on you. For example: Passersby are throwing garbage (including broken glass bottles) into my yard now, making it unsafe for my 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: You can either throw out the garbage and mow the lawn yourself, or I can help you find someone who’ll do those jobs for you.

  • Describe what will happen if they outright refuse. For example: Though I'd rather not have to, I'm prepared to complain to the municipality.

We have a template letter to help get you started. You can adapt it 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. 

Finding a mediator

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 area can help narrow your search. 

You can also look into whether your municipality has a local community mediation program. For example, there is the Burnaby Mediation Centre and the North Vancouver Community Mediation Services Society.

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, you can 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.

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, or an order requiring the neighbour to clean up their premises. 

Be aware, though, that taking legal 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.  

If you decide to press forward, here's a primer on starting a lawsuit. 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. 

Common questions

My neighbour’s property is a mess. Who can I report this to?

You can make a complaint to 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.

Who can help

Mediate BC
To search their list of mediators in BC, select community under practice areas.
PovNet
PovNet features a map tool to help find an advocate.
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.

  • Reviewed in November 2020
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 12 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Lisa Frey, Lawson Lundell LLP

Lisa Frey

Was this helpful?

Also on this topic

Need to know

Options to deal with a neighbour problem

Work it out

Odours and neighbours

News

Expanded coverage of neighbour issues

Work it out

Noise and neighbours

Work it out

Tips for talking with your neighbour

Work it out

Trees and neighbours

Work it out

Fences and neighbours

Work it out

Parking and neighbours

Still not sure what to do?

If you're looking for advice specific to your situation, there are options for free or low-cost help.

Options for legal help