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When Neighbourly Disputes Get Out of hands

I was recently asked by CBC to comment on a war-of-the-roses type of dispute between neighbours. This non-condo court case playing out of Kingston involved two former neighbours who were suing each other for damages.

It all started when, after a confrontation between the two neighbours, one of them tried to […get ready for this one…] set  the other’s house on fire in the middle of the night and burned a smiley face onto the grass near the children’s play area. This neighbour was eventually convicted of attempted arson endangering life and mischief to property.  In a twist of events, this same neighbour sued the other for malicious prosecution, harassment and intentional infliction of mental suffering. The other one counter-sued.

Only time will tell how this story ends but judges have been critical of these kinds of disputes in the past. In 2014, Justice Morgan had to deal with two neighbours fighting over various incidents, including one of a neighbour dropping their dog’s waste into the neighbour’s garbage can and allowing their dog to relieve itself on the neighbour’s lawn.  Another set of incidents involved one of them taking pictures of the other’s house across the street and sometimes just pretending to take such pictures.  In addition to this, one of them would intentionally park his car, legally, in front of the other’s house. The ultimate offense had to do with one of them casting her gaze from her own property across the street and resting her eyes onto the neighbour’s house, sometimes for a full 25 seconds.

You know, just another typical day on Wisteria Lane. A lawsuit ensued.

The judge dismissed the claim concluding that a court cannot order a Defendant to “be nice” to the Plaintiff.

What about in condos?

Living in close quarters, on a postage stamp footprint in the case of condos, comes with benefits but also with challenges. This proximity can often lead to frictions and, at times, to confrontations.  Some of them escalate and get out of hands.

Perhaps the most famous of these cases was the Korolekh case where an owner physically assaulted others, hurled racists and homophobic slurs, made repeated threats, played extremely loud music at night and used her large and aggressive dog to frighten and intimidate owners and their children. This case led to her eviction.

We also blogged about the Hayes’ case.  In this case, despite five physical assaults on other owners or residents (at least one of which was caught by the security cameras) and verbal abuse, threats and intimidation directed at board members and other owners, the court chose to give her one last chance to redeem herself but basically ordered her to behave and be nice.

Finally, we also blogged about two cases where owners were found to display signs of mental incapacity which, in at least one case, resulted in very disruptive behaviour. In this case, the owner left threatening voicemail messages and complained repeatedly that people were abusing her pet and injecting flies and gas in her unit. In the lobby, she was seen rearranging furniture and sleeping on the lobby couch with a table on top of her. She would spend hours dialing the same number at the intercom and knocking on people’s doors at inappropriate times, asking for “Justin” or indicating that she was Justin’s sister. In this case, the court concluded that this behaviour constituted harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and that it raised serious concerns about the physical and emotional safety, security, comfort and enjoyment of other residents.

All this to say that there is a growing number of cases where condo corporations have had to intervene.  In most cases, they include actual breaches to the Act or the rules in place at the corporation.  In every case, proper documentation and cogent evidence is required.  It is usually best to deal with this in an escalating matter, rather than go for eviction at the first infraction.

For now, section 117 still prohibit dangerous activities.  This provision presently reads as follows:

No person shall permit a condition to exist or carry on an activity in a unit or in the common elements if the condition or the activity is likely to damage the property or cause injury to an individual.

The new version of this section (not in force yet) will widen the corporation’s powers by expressly prohibiting any conduct that is likely to damage the property or the assets but also any conduct which is likely to cause an injury or an illness to an individual. It will also specifically prohibit noise, nuisance, annoyance or disruption to units or common elements.

These proceedings are never easy on anyone involved and it is best to attempt t resolve these kinds of dispute early on – whenever possible.

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