Your municipality recently carried out some work near you. Unfortunately, your basement has been flooded, and half your lawn has been torn up! You can claim compensation (money) from the municipality or the contractor, but you must follow specific procedures and respect certain timelines.
It will be easier to recall and prove the details of any damages you suffered if you take notes or pictures. For example, you could note the time, date, and place of the incident, the names of any witnesses or people you spoke with, and when you spoke with them. You can also try to evaluate the cost of the damages and keep a record of anything you find out.
This evidence can be used to notify the municipality of your claim. You can also use it in court later if you decide to sue for damages. Your evidence consists of everything you can use to prove your version of the events. If you wish to use photos, you should note when and where they were taken, as well as who took them. To learn more, see our article Evidence in Small Claims Cases.
Inform the municipality in writing as soon as possible
As a general rule, you must inform the municipality in writing within 15 days of the incident or within 15 days of first noticing the damages. This is the case for Montreal, Quebec City, Gatineau and Sherbrooke, for example. However, for some municipalities, the deadline is 60 days. You could check with your municipality to see which applies. However, to be on the safe side, you should send the notice within 15 days, if possible. You could lose your right to claim compensation if you fail to send this notice or send it too late.
The notice must indicate your intention to file a claim and include a description of the damages and your address. You should send the notice to the clerk of the municipality. Some municipalities provide a claim form on their website along with instructions on where to send it, for example, the cities of Montreal and Quebec (French only).
Writing and sending a notice about damages is not complicated. You don’t have to use a special form for it to be valid. You just have to include all the necessary information. If you’re not sure whether the 15-day or 60-day deadline applies, don’t take a chance. Send the notice within 15 days, if possible.
Even if you think you may have missed the deadline, send your notice anyway. You will not have lost anything if it is too late, and it will protect your rights if the deadline has not yet passed.
Even if you are not sure whether the work was done by the municipality or by a contractor, it’s a good idea to send a written notice to the municipality. It can then tell you whether your claim should be against the contractor. The municipality can also investigate the work of the contractor.
A municipality is not legally responsible for damages caused by a contractor it hired to carry out work. To learn more, see our article: Municipal Works: Who’s Responsible for Damages?
Writing and sending a demand letter
Once you’ve sent your written notice, you can send a demand letter (in French, mise en demeure). In this letter, you can explain to the municipality or the contractor what you are claiming and why. You can also explain what they could do to settle the matter and avoid going to court.
Unlike the written notice mentioned above, the demand letter is not a legal requirement. However, sending one can save you some costs later on and encourage the municipality or contractor to settle the matter out of court.
You must ensure that the person to whom you’re sending the demand letter actually receives it and that you will be able to prove this, if necessary. There are several ways to do this, for example, sending it by registered mail or by bailiff.
Taking the matter to court
If you sent your written notice within 15 days and can’t reach a settlement with the municipality or contractor, you can file a court action against them. Deadlines depend on the situation.
Who are you suing?
Minimum time to wait before filing a court action
Maximum time to go to court
15 days from the time your written notice is received
6 months from the time of the incident
3 years from the date of the incident
If you’re not sure who’s responsible for the damages, you can sue both the municipality and the contractor in the same lawsuit. In this situation, you must respect the shorter deadline and file the application in court within six months of the incident.
To receive compensation, you must prove that you suffered damages, that the municipality or contractor committed a fault, and that your damages resulted from this fault. The court may reject your claim against the municipality if the contractor committed the fault.
If you suffered a physical injury, you don’t have to send your written notice within 15 days. In addition, you have three years (not six months!) to file a court action against the municipality.