Although it is preferable to have truly good neighbours, most of the time we can at least rely on the old saying that good fences make good neighbours.
What can be done, however, for those times when a sturdy cedar fence is not going to be enough? Even the best fence can’t help you with a neighbour whose front yard resembles a jungle or a wrecking yard. Or a neighbour whose dog apparently finds 2:00 am a good time to serenade the moon. Nor is this simply a matter of personal discomfort. The elderly and disabled in our community rely on proper snow removal to move about their neighbourhoods.
Although an aggrieved neighbour can turn to the common law of nuisance to address some areas of concern, this is a costly and typically unsatisfying route to take. Furthermore, it is a very confrontational option that most times will further degrade neighbourly relations. To try to better manage these types of disputes, communities usually turn to bylaws to both inform people of their responsibilities and to allow a more neutral enforcement of a variety of standards.
Some municipalities or regional districts pass an assortment of single purpose bylaws, each addressing their own topic. Recently, however, there has been a trend to consolidate these community standards into a single bylaw (although the City of Kelowna is a notable exception and continues to maintain a number of bylaws). The exact purpose of the consolidated bylaws is made unmistakably clear with most of the bylaws’ chosen title: The “Good Neighbour Bylaw”.
Although not every bylaw is the same, some of the topics covered by ‘Good Neighbour’ bylaws include:
- general noise and boat noise;
- panhandling and public space usage;
- property maintenance, including snow and trash removal;
- vacant building standards;
- nuisance smoke;
- dogs and other pets; and
- boulevard and lane maintenance.
The enforcement process may differ, even within the bylaws themselves. Most inspections are complaint driven (although they can be anonymous). After a bylaw officer responds to the complaint, and if a violation is noted, a ticket or notice of violation is left with the property owner, although sometimes the bylaw officer may issue a warning. In some cases, the owner is given the opportunity to correct the violation (shovel the sidewalk), but in other cases, the ticket will prescribe a fine that must be paid. If certain violations (typically relating to property maintenance) are not corrected the municipality will undertake the remedial steps and charge the property owner for that expense (an amount that can then be collected through the municipal tax regime, forming a charge on the land if necessary). An owner can dispute a ticket, which is then sent to the Provincial Court for a hearing.
It should be noted that although ‘Good Neighbour’ bylaws cover matters that even a good fence can’t help with, the exact usefulness of the bylaws depends a great deal on the amount of municipal resources dedicated to the investigation and enforcement of the bylaw. This may vary significantly between municipalities and in some cases enforcement requires a court application at taxpayer expense. If you look to bylaws to quickly solve all of your problems, you may be disappointed. Because of these imperfections, you may first want to try communication and accommodation. Maybe the fresh baked apple pie really will work better than the fence or the bylaw officer.The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.