When Loving thy Neighbor is Impossible: A Guide on How to Handle the Worst Neighbor Behavior

It is an unspoken truth that anyone who chooses not to live as a hermit is going to have to deal with neighbors.

Young people know them as the grouchy old people who call the cops on all their parties. Old people often see them as a source of noise. In the best cases, people can live next door or in the same neighborhood or building without ever having to involve a landlord, a lawyer, or the cops.

This article is not about that. I am here to talk about the worst neighbor behavior.

Ideally you should always confront an offending neighbor and try to settle things amicably. If you are afraid of going about your daily life due to their behavior, it’s time to swallow any fear about confrontation and speak to them.

If that fails, here are some common neighbor problems and what to do about them. Please note that the municipal laws mentioned are strictly for Montreal, so if you live elsewhere, you will have to consult your own city’s bylaws for some of these.

Noise

It should be said that not all noise complaints are valid. If you live near a commercial street with bars, clubs, theatres, or restaurants, you should expect a fair amount of noise around your home.

It must also be said that some people phone in noise complaints for purely vindictive reasons because they’ve decided they don’t like their neighbors and want to make it impossible for them to entertain guests or listen to music in their homes. Take comfort in the fact that people who make those kinds of complaints do so often and are unlikely to be taken seriously by police.

If you call 311 – the City of Montreal’s information hotline – they’ll tell you that you cannot make a noise complaint between 7 am and 11 pm. Unfortunately, that’s not true, so be prepared to argue about it.

Most municipal bylaws assess noise complaints based on a question of reasonability.

Let’s say a rich neighbor is making cosmetic renovations to the outside of his home, the work has been going on every day from eight am to six pm for over a month and the workers aren’t using any sort of muffling equipment on their noisy machinery. That’s clearly an unreasonable amount of noise. Call 911 and complain. They’ll send the cops to put your selfish neighbor in their place.

Now imagine living in an apartment building where your upstairs neighbor sings opera loudly late at night and it’s lovely… But only if you’re a horny cat seeking a mate. If you can’t get them to quiet down directly, speak to your landlord. As a tenant you are entitled to “peaceable enjoyment of the premises” and an extremely noisy neighbor would violate that.

To make sure your landlord gets notice of the problem, you may have to send them a formal letter via registered mail (be sure to keep the receipt for the Rental Board). In said letter, give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem – say eight days.

If your landlord refuses to deal with it and the matter is serious enough, you can take action with the Quebec Rental Board, which generally rules in favor of tenants. They can force your landlord to reduce your rent, let you claim damages from the landlord, or in the worst case, cancel your lease.

Before phoning in a complaint, ask yourself if the complaint is reasonable and consider the consequences. Some complaints against businesses can result in fines that can ultimately destroy them. A tragic example is Divan Orange, a beloved showbar in the Plateau that had to close its doors when the fines it incurred because of noise complaints from neighbors crushed it financially.

Harassment, Peeping, and Other Privacy and Safety Violations

This is a problem that particularly affects women, people of colour, and sexual and religious minorities. Neighbors can make your life a living hell if they find you sexually attractive or have some idiotic and highly toxic notions about your people. Fortunately, in Canada there’s more than one way to address the problem.

Take the case of Elie El-Chakieh and Hellen Christodoulou, a couple of engineers who moved into a home in Laval. Initially their relationship with their neighbor, Daniel Noel, was civil, but it quickly devolved over mutual complaints of bylaw violations. Instead of handling things like an adult, Noel’s behavior quickly became toxic and he began engaging in racial harassment against El-Chakieh, who is of Lebanese descent.

Noel also accused El-Chakieh of spousal abuse, and of being a pedophile. He called the RCMP and immigration to find out the couple’s immigration status, and even contacted their professional orders and academic institutions to try and discredit them professionally.

El-Chakieh and Christodoulou decided to sue. On April 22, 2018, a Superior Court judge ordered Noel to pay them $50 000 in damages, calling his behavior “low, vile and repugnant.”

That said, suing isn’t your only option. You can also file a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission which is charged – along with the Human Rights Tribunal – with enforcing the Quebec Charter of Rights. If your neighbor is hurling slurs at you and engaging in other harassment based on your race, religion, or gender, give the Commission a call and file a complaint. If they think your complaint is serious enough they’ll launch their own investigation and possibly bring your case to the Tribunal to seek “any appropriate measure against the person or to demand, in favour of the victim, any measure it considers appropriate at that time.” (section 80 of the Quebec Charter).

Now let’s say you have a neighbor who constantly makes lewd comments about you, asks invasive inappropriate questions about personal matters, peeps into your windows, or has a creepy tendency to always be nearby when you leave or come home.

If you’re a woman living alone, you have every reason to consider this kind of behavior to be a threat to your safety. Fortunately, the behavior falls under the Criminal Code’s definition of harassment which can include:

  • Following you from place to place
  • Repeatedly communicating with you directly or indirectly, or communicating with people who know you
  • Watching your dwelling or place where you work, carry on business or happen to be

If a neighbor does this, call the police. Keep track of any proof you can. If he sends texts or emails, save them. Film him watching you. Take photos of him peeping. If convicted, the neighbor in question is facing at least six months in jail or a five thousand dollar fine, and at most ten years in prison.

Property Disputes

Property disputes can be summed up with two words: land and money.

Let’s say you have a neighbor who is stubbornly claiming that their property line ends fifty feet onto what you believe is yours.

The solution? Hire a surveyor.

A land surveyor will check public records and maps to confirm the correct property lines and for an extra fee they’ll put down stakes or a button in the land indicating the boundary between each property. Feel free to claim half the surveyor’s fee from your neighbor.

Which brings us to money disputes, which often come in the form of arguments about shared expenses, such as that of hiring a land surveyor, or clearing snow from a shared driveway. The solution: hire a lawyer and let them tough it out with your neighbor.

If the money your neighbor is claiming is less than fifteen thousand dollars, you can fight it out in small claims court. The clerk of the Court of Quebec now offers a service either by phone or in person to assist people to preparing to face off in small claims.

In an ideal world, neighbors would be the kind who bring you soup when you’re sick and always have milk and sugar to lend you in a pinch. In the real world you need to remember that you have legal ways to nip the worst neighbor behavior in the bud. Use them when you need them.

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