Building rage: When bylaws make poor neighbours

Apparently leftover laminate flooring and big staples are acceptable building materials in the city of Toronto.

Am I sounding sarcastic? Probably. It’s a sign of my frustration with the city and its bylaws – or at least its bylaw officers.

Here’s why:

About a month ago our neighbours put up this addition on the front of their house:

The unfortunate addition on the front of my neighbour's house.

The unfortunate addition on the front of my neighbour’s house.

It was thrown up in a day, while we were out in fact, and finished with leftover laminate flooring, white corrugated fibreglass, and staples. Big staples. We were aghast, as were a few of our neighbours.

So I phoned the bylaw department and left a message. No reply. I emailed our local counsellor. To his credit, he followed up – only to let us know that:

“Toronto Buildings have confirmed with me that following their investigation, this type of enclosure is safe and permitted by the City. As a result, they have closed their file on this case.”

While the “type of enclosure” may be safe – did they look at how it was built? That it was held together by staples? That they basically have a lean-to built on the front lawn?

I suppose what’s bothering me the most is that it cheapens the look of both our properties. I thought the law would be on my side; but it’s not.

But, as Robert Frost wrote, good fences make good neighbours – and the more egregious things someone can do on their property are best hidden behind fences. They’re much less likely to irritate the rest of us that way. If this had been in their backyard, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. We’re all entitled to do what we like on our own property.

This is important because, particularly in cities, where density is high and where, even in the most expensive neighbourhoods, we live cheek by jowl with each other, we have more of a responsibility toward each other.  It is more incumbent upon each of us to consider how our actions affect our neighbours.

But, instead, we often end up turning the other way, minding our own business on the one hand, becoming angry and self-righteous on the other. We create invisible barriers of hostility instead of sturdy fences for privacy.

And irritate our neighbours while we’re at it.

 

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16 comments

  1. Unfortunately, as you have learned, safe and to code is all that’s required. The diversity of Toronto, which is such a great strength, also means we have to live with a wide variety of building styles, some of which we may not like. Having said that, I can’t believe any culture would find that lean-to anything but ugly.

    1. Thanks for that, Judy. Yes, tolerance is a good thing – it expands all of our minds and tastes, etc. But, boy, I wish I didn’t have to live next to this example of the when it goes wrong.

  2. What an eyesore. I would just hate to see oh, say, a FIRE OR SOMETHING accidentally burn that thing to the ground. On Friday.

    1. Ha! I think the storm might blow it away.

  3. I’m not a fan of city living. I’d prefer a bothy in the Highlands of Scotland to living on top of someone else. I’m having a hard time at the moment renting; new neighbours have just started renting nextdoor (our houses share a wall; a semi). I popped over to welcome them, a father and his teenage son, I thought they might want to know when the garbage gets collected etc.
    Unfortunately my neighbourliness has been rewarded with pounding bass at all hours (including 1, 2 and 3 in the morning) and a curt instruction to “Call the cops” when I went over to discuss it. Seems some people love nothing better than to cause a stir…

    1. It never ceases to amaze me. Life is so good when neighbours work together – and can be so horrible when they intentionally antagonize. Particularly in close quarters – as in the city, people need to be a bit more aware of what effect their actions have on their neighbours. The city’s not anonymous … in fact, it can be very intimate because of the small lots and high density. That’s part of the good side of it – and the bad. I’m sorry your neighbour has decided to turn it into a ‘call the cops’ relationship. They don’t know what they’re missing. The Scottish bothy sounds good – as does a small town on the west coast of Ireland!

      1. Haha! Maybe it’s because I grew up just outside a small town in Ireland’s Co. Kildare, that I feel the way I do about peace and quiet 🙂

      2. Oh, lucky you! That must explain it! Which town?

      3. Athy – about 50 miles south of Dublin…

      4. Ah yes. Gorgeous part of the world! You’re certainly a long way from home now – and much colder! My husband is from Belfast and came over here a few years ago. He’s just starting to get used to the cold. He’s with you on the small town – particularly in Scotland, too!

      5. I’ve been watching an old Robert Kee series to try and better understand my Irish roots – it’s all so confusing. Funnily enough I haven’t had to hard a time of it getting used to the temps – which is surprising because I dislike the cold, but when it’s mixed with this much sunshine I couldn’t give a hoot 🙂

      6. The sunshine definitely makes it bearable. I found the Irish weather very moderate – but so depressing in winter. Dark by 3/3.30 and not light again until 8.30 in the morning. And then grey most of the time in between. Having said that, the long days of summer almost made up for it!

      7. And why is understanding your Irish roots so confusing?

      8. Do you understand the centuries old antagonism between Protestants and Catholics, the Irish and the English, the Presbyterians and the Orangemen… it’s all so multi-layered and scrambled!

      9. Ah yes, that. I lived in Belfast for a number of years and my husband is from Belfast. From where I stand, it’s difficult to understand how antagonism can last centuries. By that I mean the visceral antagonism that keeps the history alive – as opposed to acknowledging what happened and moving on to create something new. It can seem simple looking at it from this end, but it never is.

      10. Exactly! Still, I’ll keep trying…

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