Dealing with an Unsightly Neighbor

Riding my bike through the streets of East Vancouver, I looked at the homes as I rolled by: a charming craftsman, a re-imagined Vancouver special, a peeling heritage Victorian, a new shingled Cape Cod, a modern box….a run-down “crack shack”. Outside the decrepit home, a shirtless, bearded hippie on a slackline practiced balancing between two trees. I stopped and walked by bike onto my friend’s porch. As we sat, taking in a glass of wine near Commercial Drive, she lamented: “In Vancouver neighborhoods, where home prices are soaring far above $1 million, what do you do when your neighbor is letting his home rot into the ground?”

I looked over to her shoulder, and immediately knew what she was referring to. Next door, the siding was falling off the side of the house, exposed clapboard showing signs of mould. The tar shingle roof was covered in moss. The garden was full of Morning Glory, which was starting to creep over the house, and under the fence and onto her property. The front of the house was almost completely obstructed by unkempt rhododendrons, and a dandelion-filled “lawn”. To the side of the yard, the remains of an upright piano sat, peeling and rotten. Which leads back to my friend’s original question: what can one do? I made a few suggestions (from worst to best):

WRITE AN ANONYMOUS, OR NOT SO ANONYMOUS, NOTE:
If you’re a direct person, you may consider writing a carefully worded note, suggesting that neighbors (spread the blame around!) would love to see the property tidied up. If the note is anonymous, you’re likely passive aggressive or dislike confrontation. Who can blame you? If the note is signed by you alone, be prepared for dirty looks and awkward encounters.

BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD
Perhaps if your neighbors see you working on your yard, or making improvements, it may serve as inspiration to keep up with the Joneses. It sounds like a stretch, but it has worked for some! However, if the property is tenanted, this likely won’t help.

DROP HINTS TO THE NEIGHBOR
If you happen to run into the problem neighbor, drop hints like “we are thinking of getting our house stuccoed/painted/re-roofed/fumigated/bulldozed, and we may be able to get a discount if we both get it done….are you interested? Can I send them over for a quote today?”. Or have your tradespeople put flyers and business cards in their mailbox. When you’re in the garden, talk loudly to passersby about how rewarding and stress relieving it is to get out in the fresh air and Dutch hoe, hoping to be overheard.

LEAD THE CHARGE
A friend recently conveyed the story of her widowed 85 year-old neighbor, whose home is an eyesore. Instead of complaining, a few neighbors banded together and offered to help with the garden, and powerwash her deck. She refused, so one friend took her out for lunch while the others did a quick clean-up around the yard. This is certainly a good-karma approach, although you may not feel so generous towards a slum-lord.

CONTACT THE CITY
Likely your best bet is to call the City. According to Vancouver.ca, the City can help with “properties in poor condition, suspected hoarding, vehicles parked in the front lawn, visible mould in rental properties, home based businesses where customers are coming on-site, overgrown yards, illegal suites and illegal uses, operating without a business licence, and fences in disrepair”. You can request a property-use inspection by calling 3-1-1.