Interpersonal conflict understandably makes many people uncomfortable – and when that conflict is with a neighbour you live side-by-side with, it can be even more awkward. Whether a contentiously-placed fence, right of way issue, excessive noise, pet issues, or an invasion of privacy, potential friction points with neighbours are long.

Letting conflicts spiral out of control into litigation is rarely in anyone’s interest. This article will highlight some best practices to ensure you can mitigate any disputes with your neighbour early on and (hopefully), spare you the time and energy of going to court.

Get to know your neighbour

It seems obvious advice, but take the time to introduce yourself to your neighbours. As with family, we don’t choose our neighbours, but building some familiarity and a friendly rapport can help ensure the lines of communication are open. That familiarity can be crucial in defusing potentially acrimonious disputes.

Pick your battles 

One thing to keep in mind is that people may be completely oblivious that something they are doing is bothering someone else – so unless they are actually told, they will have no idea that they are being a nuisance. Avoid putting them on the defensive, but make sure they are aware. At the same time, you should also ask yourself whether the annoyance is serious enough for you to raise it with a neighbour. It is something they are often doing, or whether it is likely to be a one-off. If it’s the latter, consider whether it is worth bringing up or whether you should let it lie.

Know the rules

Make sure you know and understand any applicable local bylaws that govern everything from fences to garbage storage to noise and zoning infractions.  On the other hand, many disputes are not governed by any bylaws. Common law (which are not formal laws but legal principles established over time by courts) may apply in these cases. Either way, knowing in advance the rules makes it easier to approach a neighbour with any concerns and think about your options if you can’t resolve the issue.

Why speak up?

Many people are opposed to confrontation. However, it is important to consider the potential consequences of saying nothing in situations where a simple conversation might nip a looming problem. If a neighbour is contemplating putting up a fence on your property, saying something early might make them reconsider and work with you on finding a solution agreeable to both of you.

Important too is the common law principle of adverse possession, which holds that a non-owner may obtain rights similar to ownership if the actual owner does not demonstrate ownership over a piece of property for a long period of time.

Strength in numbers 

In cases where a neighbour is doing something that is impacting many neighbours, you may be better off all working together to resolve it. Similarly, if you have neighbours who are not affected, you may want to leave them out of your strategizing.

Keep the receipts

It never hurts to have evidence of offending behaviour, in some cases by recording it or others by keeping a log of what happens when. Be aware, however, that there are rules governing what is considered appropriate or inappropriate in terms of surveillance. Always seek legal advice if you are in any doubt.  

Calling the authorities – or maybe just a mediator

In some cases where you and a neighbour can’t resolve an issue amongst yourselves, you may need to enlist the help of a third party. This third party might be the government – if there are potential bylaw infractions, you may want to contact the municipality so that they can investigate.

In other cases, where you and your neighbour both agree on it, bringing in a mediator (who may be pair or simply a volunteer) to help get everyone to an agreeable compromise might be a good idea. 

It is rare for police to get involved in a neighbour dispute unless there is the risk of physical violence (which hopefully can be avoided!).

In many cases, consulting with a lawyer is a prudent move, both to help give you confidence that you have a clear grasp of the legal situation and understand your legal options to solve it. 

Going to court: usually a bad idea

When it comes to neighbourly property disputes, going to court is usually a “nuclear option” or last resort. There are various reasons for this, including that it can become extremely expensive and will take years to resolve. Courts have also increasingly taken a dim view of litigants who waste scarce court resources with petty disputes. You may find yourself on the wrong end of a cost award (orders from the court to pay the other party’s expenses) if the court feels you are wasting their time on something that could have easily been resolved without a lawsuit. 

Contact the Civil Litigation Lawyers in Ottawa, Kingston, North Bay and Across Eastern Ontario

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our civil litigation lawyers are respected for their professional, tenacious, and assertive approach to files. Our team is experienced in a wide variety of litigation matters and skilled in resolving complex problems. Our lawyers work closely with our clients to understand their legal issues’ scope and determine the most effective options for resolution. Whether the matter is simple or complex, our litigation group strives to find practical solutions and provide professional, courteous, and responsive services. Contact us at 1-888-799-8057 or visit us online to set up a consultation and discuss your matter in confidence with an experienced lawyer.

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