Chatham-Kent is looking into preventing residents from erecting “spite” fences that antagonize neighbours.
According to Ward 2 Councillor Trevor Thompson, he’s had more than a dozen complaints about them. Thompson brought the motion to council back in 2020 and hopes language can be established in a property standards bylaw that will make it more difficult for such fences to be constructed.
According to Thompson, a “spite” fence is any sort of fence that is created to make another person’s area inhospitable by blocking a nice view, creating an obstruction, or making the area look unattractive.
Thompson said he thinks the issue has flown under the radar for a little while and wants to see something done.
Although the municipality has a fencing bylaw, Thompson says he wants more specific language to discourage spite fences.
“I would like to see some language put in around spite fences or basically getting approvals before you put those fences in and give them - I’ll call them the victim in this instance - some sort of pathway to find satisfaction if one of these fences goes in because obviously, not everybody is going to get the proper approvals for a fence,” said Thompson.
During last week’s council meeting, council approved to have municipal staff look into potential amendments to the current fence bylaw and return a report to council by the end of 2021.
After nearly a year, Thompson said he’s frustrated with the report’s outcome.
“When the motion initially passed, I was inundated with people across the municipality dealing with these sorts of issues and having absolutely no recourse,” said Thompson. “We waited almost a year to get a report back that basically said ‘Oh well,’ and I think it was very frustrating to everyone to whom I had spoken.”
According to the report, those types of fence laws are common in the United States, where they are deemed a private nuisance. However, that is not the case in Canada.
“Chatham-Kent does not have a private nuisance system but would rely on a municipal staff member or committee to make a determination under the bylaw about whether the fence was constructed out of spite,” the report read. “It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a staff member or committee to assess the property owner’s intention in the construction of the fence.”
Chatham-Kent’s fence bylaw currently regulates such things as height of fence, location of fences in visibility triangles, type of fences, and the materials from which they may be constructed. However, it does not address that a fence cannot be built out of spite or for an illegitimate purpose.
“If we can’t have a spite fence bylaw, we could strengthen our current bylaw to take some of these considerations in place,” he said. “People should have the opportunity to enjoy their yards and their views.”
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News