Avoiding fights with your neighbours over home and property renovations starts with cultivating good relationships with them and being civil and reasonable about your needs.

Whether you’re planning some future renovations or not, Peter Bruer, manager of conflict resolution services at St. Stephen’s Community House in downtown Toronto, says keeping up a pleasant relationship with your neighbours during the good times is a great way to build some goodwill capital for later.

“The best way to avoid disputes is to cultivate some kind of relationship with your neighbour when you don’t have any problems. It makes it easier to approach them so that later when you need them, you’re not going in cold,” Bruer said.

Think reasonably before you begin any major renovations — if you know your weekend deck-building is going to be a nightmare of loud power saws and wind-blown wood chippings, warn your neighbour in advance and see if you can see eye-to-eye on any possible accommodations for each other. Show that you’re willing to listen to their concerns and they will feel respected and be more receptive, Bruer says.

St. Stephen’s is a non-profit, donor-funded agency offering completely free dispute resolution services to community members who want to avoid the courtroom in their disputes with neighbours; similar dispute resolution centres abound throughout major cities across Canada. Bruer recommends contacting an agency like St. Stephen’s long before you get to the shouting-match phase of a dispute.

If common sense and civility fails, you will be left with no choice but the legal option of hiring a lawyer and taking your neighbour to court. Be warned, however, that going to court is pretty much a scorched-earth maneuvre as the costs, stresses, wasted time and ultimate emotional price of a legal battle are unlikely to be satisfying for either party.

Legal costs are usually high, with lawyers’ fees in a dispute starting at around $150 per hour and the final tab can grow to astronomical heights.

Most importantly, Bruer says taking the legal route is likely to backfire.

“Even if you win, you’ve now poisoned your relationship with that neighbour forever. Who likes living next to a neighbour who hates them?” Bruer said.

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