Skip to main content

My question

Our next-door neighbours of 15 years have always been good neighbours. But now they've split, and it appears the wife lives there, but I'll see her maybe once a year. The house and backyard are slowly becoming rundown. The soffits are falling off or just dangling by a thread. Their garage roof no longer has shingles as they have blown onto the ground on their property. Their yard is full of rubbish (papers, cardboard, old TVs, discarded food, ladders and various other things). The squirrels look like they are on steroids because they eat whatever is put outside. They chew and travel with the wrappers and plastic pieces and deposit them in our yard. Other things fly in when the wind comes up. I want to call the city bylaw enforcement and get it dealt with due to all the hazards (rabid skunks, fire etc.) and the constant eyesore we endure. My husband thinks we should chat with the owner or owners and let her or them know our concerns. But no one answers the phone or door. So we carry on and do nothing while awaiting a chance encounter. Do we continue to wait and ask them nicely to clean it up or call the city and have them deal with it?

The answer

That is a thorny, foggy, grey-area-filled, Gordian-knotty issue – so much so I am going to enlist help on this one.

I have in my Rolodex a loose aggregation of hand-picked experts, collectively called "the Panel," with whom I consult when a particular question is outside the comfort zone of my skill set, i.e. there's some technical, legal and/or perhaps medical or whatnot aspect to the question requiring more expertise than is mine to give.

Each member of the Panel is outstanding in his/her field. There are family lawyers, a psychiatrist, consultants of various kinds – even, for the (admittedly rare) occasions I get a question relating to clothing-optional lifestyles, a "naturist": Stéphane Deschênes of the Canadian Federation of Naturists.

He's outstanding nude in his field.

(Sorry, I've cracked that joke before, and I know it was a tortured set-up, it just really tickles my funny bone.)

Anyway, without further ado, please welcome the newest addition to the Panel: author, speaker and real estate lawyer extraordinaire Mark Weisleder.

Headline of what he thinks: The law covering this is murky, to say the least, and you might wind up spending a lot of time and energy with little or nothing to show for it but frayed nerves and ground-down teeth if you choose to go the legal route.

He says if there is a question of danger – if the house is truly falling down and your neighbours refuse to do anything about it, and if there is some evidence you or your husband are in danger from what's going on, the city actually has the right to go ahead and make the necessary repairs and put it on your neighbours' tax bill.

If that is the case, you should contact the city (building department is best) prontissimo, because it'll take a while to process.

Or if you can prove there's damage to your property, for instance, water runoff from their property is ruining your foundation or something like that, you might have some luck.

But – and it's a big, fat, hairy but – if it's just a matter of squirrels and things blowing into your yard and a vague sense of possible fire – well, you're stuck with small claims court (or hiring a lawyer at great expense, not advised) and "these things can be very difficult to win."

In other words, you're screwed. Weisleder mentions as an aside the perhaps not-so-well-known fact "one of the top 10 reasons people move is difficult neighbours."

So there's that. Problem there being if potential buyers get a whiff of trouble with the neighbours, it could negatively affect your property values.

(Parenthetically, he advises prospective buyers of any property "always look at neighbours" and do research, because there's no law compelling sellers to disclose anything about them. Speaking of nudity, he mentions a case in B.C. where prospective buyers were informed there was a "public beach" next door but failed to mention it was a nude beach – which at first blush might make you think "score!" but upon further reflection you might realize is less than ideal.)

Bottom line: I think you're stuck trying to track down your neighbours and getting them to make the necessary repairs to their domicile. Maybe (good suggestion from Weisleder) offer them the services of a good contractor, someone you've known/used.

That or move and don't mention to the prospective suckers – oops, I mean, buyers – your problems with the neighbours. But that doesn't really seem like your style.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.