Urban Etiquette: Help! I have garbage neighbours, literally
My neighbours have been stockpiling rubbish and empty beer bottles and cans for the past few months at the side of their home and right in front of my front door. Needless to say small animals (raccoons mostly, but also cockroaches) come and go, but being new to the country, I don’t know how to approach the issue without seeming “snobbish” or annoying. Nor do I know what the city bylaws are.
The irony is they could get money by returning the empty beer cans and bottles to any LCBO or Beer Store, but I’m under the impression they're “hoarders.” My five-year-old son played with their daughter once, and when I went to pick him up, I noticed lots of junk in the house and their backyard.
How can I deal with this issue in a civil fashion, without hurting their feelings?
The pictures of your neighbour’s garbage attached to your email are disgusting. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this in your new home, and I marvel at your patience so far.
I have some suggestions for you (below), but the cold hard truth is: no matter how polite you are, there is no winning with a certain type of person. Obviously you are entitled to walk out your front door without being accosted by vile odours, unsightly piles of trash, and vermin. But sometimes the only choice for nice, polite people like us is the devil and deep blue sea — i.e., putting up with the garbage, or putting up with angry, feuding neighbours on top of the garbage.
In the meantime, here’s my advice.
1) Inform yourself. Call the city and explain the situation. Ask what the rules are around garbage. But don’t make a formal complaint – yet.
2) Tell the neighbours you’ve seen raccoons and vermin, and you’re concerned about the health and safety of your son and their daughter. Offer to organize a cleaning and bottle-return day. Buy extra-strength garbage bags and rubber gloves for all, and get the kids involved!
3) Document everything with dated notes about your call to the city, and your pleasant clean-up invitation to the neighbours.
4) If they don’t co-operate, let them know you’re going to call the city to complain. Follow up with a friendly note or email, again expressing your concern, and repeating your friendly invitation to help clean it up.
5) Keep documenting! Make notes about all communications between you, and make copies of any written communications. (Judging by your polite email to me, I know I don’t have to tell you to remain civil.)
6) If they go along with your invitation, you may have to accept a future of constantly helping them clean up their own garbage, but you will at least enjoy a clean and fragrant view.
7) If they react badly, you are now entitled to make a formal complaint to the city. This is where your careful documentation of events will come in handy, but do be aware that it may lead to a future of nasty neighbour wars.
It’s not fair, and I hope they respond well. But like I said up top: sometimes no amount of good manners will ever win over garbage people.
Ellen Vanstone is a columnist based in Toronto covering issues around urban etiquette. Need advice? Email Ellen:
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