27 cases filed at 'last resort' for neighbourly spats

27 cases filed at 'last resort' for neighbourly spats
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Close to 30 "neighbours from hell" have been hauled to court in the first three months of operations of a body set up to resolve ugly community spats in October last year.

A total of 27 cases have "proceeded with actual court filings" at the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT) as at the end of last year, said a spokesman for the State Courts, which oversee the tribunals.

Four cases have since concluded, with two withdrawn and another two dismissed by the judge. The rest are ongoing.

Under the Community Disputes Resolution Act passed in March last year, the tribunals are given the powers to resolve intractable neighbourly disputes as a last resort.

Previously, people could turn to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) if they could not settle disputes on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders.

But the CMC cannot issue legal orders, and there is little the authorities can do if the neighbours do not want to make up.

Others do not even turn up - the no-show rate is about 60 per cent.

The CDRT, which has jurisdiction on claims of up to $20,000, has more teeth.

For unresolved disputes, the judge may order a hearing, in which he can make certain orders, like asking the neighbour to pay damages or apologise.

If the order is breached, the other party can apply for a Special Direction to ensure his neighbour complies. Penalties include a fine of up to $5,000, or up to three months' jail, or both for the first offence.

An Exclusion Order can also be applied to force the neighbour to move out of his home.

The tribunals received nearly 300 inquiries in the first three months, with 85 pre-filing consultations conducted.

These sessions have helped potential applicants save time and money, said the State Courts spokesman. Such consultations are free and let applicants understand court processes better and consider other ways to resolve spats.

Of the 27 cases, 60 per cent were complaints about excessive noise. The rest involved excessive smell, smoke, light or vibration as well as issues such as littering, obstruction, surveillance, trespassing and interfering with movable property.

In one case, a family with young children were supposedly making too much noise in the evenings. After two mediation sessions and three case management conferences, the family agreed to install carpets and put rubber studs on their chairs. The neighbour downstairs agreed to be more tolerant of noise before 9pm.

Noting that the CDRT is not meant "to circumvent mediation", William Wan, general secretary of Singapore Kindness Movement, said: "The initial numbers are a good sign because they show that cases which can be resolved in other ways are being filtered out before they are heard at the tribunals.

"Having neighbours meet to settle differences must always remain the first and best option."


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