Having an urban homestead doesn’t give you free rein to do whatever you wish. So how do you have an urban homestead and not annoy your neighbours?
You work hard on creating your urban homestead on your own property. However in an urban setting, you are usually surrounded by other neighbours who might not share your enthusiasm for homesteading. So what do you do when you are in conflict with what you want to do and what your neighbours want you to do or not do?
First be sure to follow all bylaws and regulations for your municipality. If in doubt, give them a call and explain what you are doing. They may want to come out and check and may give you some recommendations of what to change, but this beats having to respond to a complaint from one of your neighbours and being fined!
But there are other considerations as well that will keep the peace in the neighbourhood.
Note: I am not covering any animals that you might be able to keep on your property, as I myself don’t have any. If you do have chickens, rabbits or goats or other permissible livestock on your urban homestead, follow all bylaws and be aware of how your animals impact your neighbours in terms of noise, smell and attracting predators.
Also this article does NOT constitute legal advice. If in doubt contact the appropriate government authorities to ensure you’re not breaking the law as laws vary greatly in different parts of the world and even within a country, state or province.
This is something that a lot of homeowners don’t think about. And it can get you into big trouble!
You are responsible for proper drainage from your property. Ideally all the rain that falls on your property, including on your roof and water from irrigation should stay on your property or be diverted into the city storm drains.
As homesteaders we don’t want to see water wasted so we setup rain barrels and dig swales to direct water away from where we don’t want it.
But generally it’s illegal to divert water off your property onto your neighbour’s. It can cause damage and you could be liable for any damages caused by water that originated on your property.
If you’re going to make any major changes to drainage in your yard, you should hire a drainage expert, who can give you advice on how to divert water in keeping with local bylaws and regulations.
Fence Location, Height and Style
This is where feuds between neighbours often start. Fences seem to be the powder keg in many neighbourhood disputes.
Make sure if you are building a fence without financial help from your neighbour, that you build it on your side of the property line. If your neighbour has agreed to help pay for the fence as they see it a benefit for them as well, build the fence on the property line.
Follow all bylaws regarding fence height. Sometimes you can get a variance to have a higher fence, but that usually requires your neighbours that are bordering the fence to have input and voice their concerns.
Fence style of course can be subjective. Some people like the traditional lattice top fence panels, others prefer a different fence style. There are also privacy fences that let no light through, a consideration if your neighbour is to the north of the fence and they have plants that need sunlight planted close to the fence.
Even if your neighbour doesn’t pay for the fence, offer to have the fence painted on their side if they don’t like the look of it. It’s simply a goodwill gesture.
Just don’t do what my parent’s neighbour did many years ago. My parents had a chainlink fence installed to replace a rotten board fence. The neighbour knew what fence was being built but then proceeded to have a board fence built right next to the chainlink fence as they didn’t want my parents to see inside of their yard!
Please note that this also applies to tall hedges!
Here is where it is mainly bylaws and regulations that will restrict what you can do.
If it is plain illegal to collect rainwater, don’t do it. Instead you can advocate to have these restrictions lifted, whether that is at the municipal level or higher.
If you can harvest rainwater, do it in a conscientious manner.
- Don’t allow overflows to divert rainwater onto your neighbour’s property.
- Make sure collection devices are not noisy. I had a downspout collector where rainwater would hit a plastic part and it made a loud pattering sound – luckily my neighbour never complained, it was more of an annoyance for anyone inside our house as you could hear it clearly.
- Make sure water barrels are well secured so that they do not topple and spill water onto your neighbour’s property. While it is in my greenhouse and would likely not affect my neighbours, the pictured water barrel is a good example of how to secure one with a metal band (highlighted in red).
Compost and Fertilizing Smells
I once watered my vegetables with fish emulsion and my neighbour that was outside remarked about the smell. The stuff does smell awful, even the one that claims to be low odour!
There are other smells though as well that could irritate your neighbour that just happens to have his seating area on the other side of the fence from your compost bins or vegetable garden.
- always ensure that you are adding a good mix of browns and greens which will do a lot to keep smells down.
- don’t put dairy, meat, fish or baked goods in your compost. While they might break down over time, they will smell and attract rodents.
- If you do need to compost something extra smelly, consider digging a trench somewhere in your garden and burying the waste rather than putting it on the compost.
- Try to buy the low odour versions if available. However these still have a smell to them!
- Avoid foliar feeding plants as that can have the smell linger longer. I never do this with fish emulsion, only with seaweed
- Use granular fertilizer that you can mix under the soil.
- Work out a time with your neighbour when they won’t be home. While that won’t always be possible, at least you are showing your neighbour that you care about the impact on them.
- Avoid getting fresh manure and instead get already composted manure as it doesn’t smell as much.
Who hasn’t had the neighbour that decides to fire up their noisy lawnmower or grass trimmer just as you are sitting down for a quiet Sunday morning breakfast on your back deck or patio?
In order for you to not be that annoying neighbour, keep the following in mind:
- Switch to electric or manual tools from gas-powered. Not only is it less noisy but also less smelly and better for the environment.
- If you absolutely must use gas-powered tools, consider the newer, quieter models with more muffling.
- Avoid using noisy equipment too early in the morning or late at night. I’ve had a neighbour mow their lawn at 9:30pm in the dark!
- Consider not doing any noisy work on Sunday even if you are not religious or there are no bylaws restricting work on Sundays.
- If you are having any heavy construction work done, schedule it during the week (even if you have to take some time off work) when most of your neighbours will be working.
- Talk to your neighbours if you are going to have some work done that will involve heavy equipment to give them a heads-up.
Debris and Visual Mess
Homesteading can seem at times like a messy pursuit. This is where you can do a lot to keep your neighbours on your good side.
- If get a truckload of soil, compost, manure or wood chips delivered, try and get it out of your driveway as soon as possible. Sometimes the only place to have it delivered will be on the street in front of your house, so make sure it doesn’t impede traffic or block your neighbour from backing out of their driveway.
- If you have a pile of branches that you will be shredding or chipping for mulch, try to find a location to store it out of sight of your neighbours.
- In general keep your yard tidy, even if you have tall fences. Keep in mind that your neighbours might be sitting on a second floor deck and see your garden from above.
Some urban homesteaders grow enough to be able to sell their produce or jams, etc. that they make from their harvest.
Always of course ensure that you have the appropriate licensing to sell goods from your home. You may also need other certifications if you are selling prepared foods such as jams.
If you have a produce stand, make sure it is aesthetically pleasing to passerbys
- Avoid using old weatherbeaten wood boards.
- Paint it to match your house colour or stain raw wood to make it look well-maintained.
- Ensure it is sturdy and well secured so that a gust of wind won’t make it tumble down the street into a neighbour’s yard!
- If you are lighting it at night, make sure the light is not shining directly into other neighbour’s yards or directly at cars driving by.
Keep in mind the traffic that may be coming to your house. If it starts getting too busy, this will inconvenience your neighbours and can cause traffic congestion and even accidents.
If you become too popular, consider setting up shop at a local farmer’s market. You may even get more business this way than from regular drive-by traffic.
Learn to live with your neighbours and be cooperative. And sometimes a well-placed bag or basket of freshly picked veggies or fruit go a long way to pacify a neighbour that might be inconvenienced by your homesteading adventures!
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Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC