Dogs, Trees and Other Neighbourly Complaints

Several years ago, a builder in West Vancouver deliberately cut down the trees on his neighbours’ property. He wanted to get an ocean view from his lot to improve the value of the home he was building.

The logging was done on a Friday when most people were away from their homes at work. Earlier, he’d been told that the trees were beyond his property line. He got his view, but his neighbours’ back yards were destroyed. The wind now whipped down the hillside over ugly stumps, where protective west coast forest once grew.

As you can imagine, his neighbours sued – and won. The court ordered the builder to pay $100,000 in “punitive damages” for his blatant and deliberate destruction of their trees, as well as some $33,000 in general damages.

Fortunately, most of us don’t live beside people like this who wreak major havoc in our lives.

However, we might have neighbour complaints about things that irritate us in smaller ways. For example, perhaps the young couple down the block cranks the stereo way up whenever they have a party, keeping you awake until 3:00 a.m. Or your next-door neighbour’s poodle barks incessantly during the day. Or your neighbour’s yard is filled with rusty automobile parts and other old junk.

The question is: Do you have any legal rights to enjoy peace and quiet and a tidy neighbourhood? That depends on where you live. Many municipalities have bylaws dealing with noise and untidy premises.

If a neighbour is being unreasonably noisy, try first talking to the culprit. He or she may not realize how loud they are being. But if that doesn’t work, contact your bylaw enforcement officer. If they can’t resolve the problem informally, they may charge the person with breaking the bylaw. If your neighbour is hosting a very loud party or otherwise causing a disturbance, call the police and ask them to investigate. Your neighbour may be guilty of committing a criminal offence. Condo owners can notify their strata corporation; condominium bylaws usually limit the amount of noise a person can make.

To deal with garbage, weeds and unsightly premises, most municipalities have again passed bylaws. Generally speaking, property owners are expected to maintain their homes and gardens in a neat and tidy condition according to a standard in keeping with the rest of the neighbourhood.

If your neighbour’s place is an eyesore, call city hall. They may order your neighbour to clean it up. If your neighbour doesn’t, the municipality may do it and bill your neighbour for it.

As for trees, you’re usually free to trim limbs or branches encroaching on your property. But the tree must be left intact; you can’t hack off so much that you kill the tree. And make sure you don’t trespass on your neighbour’s yard and snip away at their trees!

Of course, if the problem is serious – an excavation threatening the foundation of your house – you may have to start a lawsuit against your neighbour.

Written by Janice and George Mucalov, LL.B.s as part of the YOU AND THE LAW series of articles, with assistance from FABRIS McIVER HORNQUIST & RADCLIFFE.

This article provides information only and must not be relied on for legal advice. Please call us at 1-800-811-3555 for legal advice concerning your particular case. 

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