The interplay between farms and neighbouring properties is not an easy one. Many normal farm activities may involve unpleasant noises and odours that impact neighbouring properties. Conceivably these activities could constitute an actionable nuisance. A nuisance is an activity which unreasonably interferes with a person’s use or enjoyment of his or her land; where a court finds that a nuisance exists it can grant an injunction ordering that the complained of activity cease, or grant damages to compensate for the loss of enjoyment of land. Most Canadian provinces have taken steps to protect farmers from these complaints by instituting Right to Farm legislation which protects “normal farm practices” from nuisance complaints by neighbouring property owners.
The opposing concern is that the practices of neighbouring property owners create a nuisance that interferes with farming practices. The decision in 1631370 Ontario Inc v 805352 Ontario Inc, 2012 ONSC 2271 (“1631370 Ontario Inc”) occurs in this context.
In 1631370 Ontario Inc the plaintiff is the owner of a property whose tenant raises Great Grandparent Turkeys (rare and vital breeding stock) The defendant recently purchased a neighbouring farm and plans to raise commercial breeder-boiler hens (the operations are roughly 780m from one another). The plaintiff’s tenant terminates its tenancy based on a concern that the defendant’s operation could emanate air born pathogens and infect the tenant’s stock. The plaintiff brought an action in nuisance, negligence and intentional interference with economic relations. This decision arises from an application for summary dismissal of the action.
The defendant’s farm is in accordance with zoning by-laws and the minimum distance rules of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The plaintiff has expert evidence that there is a substantial increase in disease transmission where the separation is less than 1000m.
The court weighs four factors in determining whether or not an actionable nuisance exists; the sensitivity of the plaintiff, the severity of the interference, the character of the neighbourhood, and the utility of the defendants conduct.
Ultimately, the court finds that there is no actionable nuisance and the application for summary dismissal is successful. In doing so, the court recognizes the social utility of the defendant’s commercial breeder-boiler hens operation, and describes the plaintiff’s claim as unusually sensitive particularly given that the severity of harm has yet to be determined. The court also takes note that the farms are located in an agricultural district, comply with the relevant regulations, and that it is not the court’s function to impose set-back standards on poultry operations.