The Responsible Housing Provider – lessons from court

July 21st, 2014 by Celia Chandler

We are often called on to give advice about neighbours who behave towards each other in ways that are less than constructive.  In previous blogs, we’ve referred to these neighbours as “the unco‑operative co‑oper”. But of course, unneighbourly behaviour goes way beyond the walls of housing co‑ops.   Landlords, condo boards, and boards of co‑ownerships are also routinely called upon to monitor behaviour that does not conform to the community standard.  Relationships that began cordially enough sometimes become tense over a simple misunderstanding and then left unchecked, tensions blossom into full disputes.

What should housing providers do?  Pointing neighbours towards community mediation is often the best way – while mediation can only work when the parties are prepared to discuss, the St. Stephen’s Community Mediation model is an excellent one for getting people first to a place where they can acknowledge the other perspective and then to a place where a new relationship can be forged.

And what doesn’t work?   The courts, as the parties in Morland‑Jones v Taerk   learned, are not the best place to resolve disputes between neighbours.   This Superior Court decision, released earlier this year, is a good example of how not to behave towards neighbours.  Justice Morgan hit the nail on the head when he said:

I cannot help but comment that the courts as public institutions are already bursting at the seams with all manner of claims. To add to that public burden the type of exchanges that these parties have engaged in would be to let the litigious society stray without a leash – or perhaps without a lis.  I note the observation made to this effect by the Supreme Court of New York in Johnson v Douglas, 734 NYS 2d 847, 187 Misc 2d 509, at 510 (2001):

Although we live in a particularly litigious society, the court is not about to recognize a tortious cause of action to recover for emotional distress due to the death of a family pet. Such an expansion of the law would place an unnecessary burden on the ever burgeoning case loads of the court in resolving serious tort claims for injuries to individuals.

What is true regarding the death of a family pet is certainly true regarding the scatology of a family pet. There is no claim for pooping and scooping into the neighbour’s garbage can, and there is no claim for letting Rover water the neighbour’s hedge. Likewise, there is no claim for looking at the neighbour’s pretty house, parking a car legally but with malintent, engaging in faux photography on a public street, raising objections at a municipal hearing, walking on the sidewalk with dictaphone in hand, or just plain thinking badly of a person who lives nearby.

If living next to someone who sometimes bugs you is not for you, then start looking for that remote island property.

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