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When neighbours feud...

Bylaw-enforcement officers get stuck in the middle of escalating complaints

Smaller subdivisions and even smaller building lots are bringing people closer together - sometimes with humorous and exasperating results.

When people purchase real estate, there is an expectation they can freely use and enjoy their piece of property. But what if the neighbourhood is noisy? What if the next-door neighbour doesn't maintain the lawn, smokes and sunbathes in the buff?

Bylaw-enforcement officers have become the arbitrators, mediators and peacemakers in a shrinking world.

Some complaints defy logic.

"A lady calls up and complains about the Rottweiler next door constantly barking," recalled Kevin Atkinson, bylaw-enforcement officer for the City of Colwood. "Upon investigation, we find that the lady doesn't like Rottweilers. She throws rocks at the dog, and the dog subsequently barks every time it sees the lady."

He recalls a colleague telling him another story about a gentleman who called to complain about his neighbour who was sunbathing in the nude. The officer who attended to the complaint visited the complainant's house but couldn't see the woman from the deck.

"Oh no, you have to get up on the ladder to get a good look at her," the man said helpfully to the enforcement officer.

"Some incidents are so bizarre, they must be true - because we couldn't make them up," Atkinson said.

A few kilometres away, Paul Lambert, bylaw-enforcement officer for the City of Langford, tries to address noise complaints by some residents of Bear Mountain.

Some of the more desirable properties are those alongside the golf course, giving homeowners an unobstructed view of the greens and fairways. However, it seems some of them are upset about groundskeepers' use of lawnmowers to keep the grass neatly trimmed.

"I need to remind people to be mindful of the reality of the property," said Lambert. "Everybody has different expectations in regards to noise. It's a challenge to pit one land use against another, especially when it was pre-existing when the person bought their house."

The two officers give their take on the top three complaints:


A property line defines the physical boundaries of a property. Unfortunately, noise does not acknowledge such arbitrary boundaries, which makes it the top complaint.

"If you are going to have a party, invite your neighbours - or at least let them know," recommends Lambert. That way, neighbours can close their windows, go out for the night or simply join in with the festivities.

When peeved, some people can get caught up in a tit-for-tat escalation.

"One person calls to complain his neighbour is mowing the lawn," Atkinson said. "No sooner have we calmed him down, the phone rings and it's his neighbour calling to complain about the person next door playing his music too loudly."

To state the obvious, people who don't like the sound of children at play shouldn't purchase a property located next to a school playground. Before putting down big bucks for waterfront property, if you object to loud, relentless noises and flashing lights, find out where the lighthouses and foghorns are located.

People should also be mindful of the circumstances behind a neighbour's noise complaint. People who don't usually complain about a neighbour's noisy leaf-blower the majority of the time may get annoyed if is used at the same time as their child's backyard birthday party.


Calls to complain about neighbours who don't maintain their yards are a close second.

"These calls have to do with the expectations of some people," said Lambert. "Say they moved from another municipality and had a high expectation as to what to expect from the municipality - and their new neighbour. Now they expect us to make his neighbour mow his lawn. We have to explain the bylaw addresses people who amass accumulations [of junk] on their property. We can't tell a person to cut his lawn."

Sometimes, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. His office sometimes receives complaints about a neighbour's colour choice.

"It may be different," Atkinson said of people who decide to paint their houses in bright colours, such as yellow. "But we can't dictate a person's colour choice."


For some reason, some people think the side of the road in front of their house is for their exclusive use. It is not; it is on public land. The problem is sometimes related to neighbourhood households who have a number of family members of driving age.

"You get Mom and Dad and, let's say four children, all with their own car," said Atkinson. "As the cars spill out on the street, the calls usually start."

One family with multiple cars first filled their driveway, but parked the extra vehicle on their front lawn instead of the street. A neighbour promptly called to complain about that, calling it unsightly. He was told firmly that there is nothing that prevents a homeowner parking a licensed vehicle on any part of their property, even the lawn.

Perhaps the best way to avoid battles is to take a deep breath and count to 10.

"People need to have reasonable expectations," Atkinson said. "People get fixated on what their neighbour does [that annoys them] and get hypersensitive. They need to take a step back."

Lambert suggests many complaints are avoidable by a bit of homework before buying a house.

"Do your research before you buy," he said. "Return to the property at different times of the day or week. Come by in the evening, after everybody has returned home."

By doing so, a buyer can tell if on-street parking is a problem at night, if an industrial site nearby makes a lot of noise during the day, or if a race track makes a lot of noise on Saturday nights.

"We're dealing with different people's expectations and lifestyles." People need to be proactive about getting the lifestyle they want. It doesn't work to make assumptions, then try to change somebody else's behaviour later.

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