New Bill good, but adjusting better

New Bill good, but adjusting better
Cluttered common spaces, like this corridor in Bedok North, can become potential fire hazards.

Personal belongings left along corridors. Boisterous families and pets. Wet laundry.

Trivial as these may seem to some of us, such "grievances" can cause strife between neighbours.

A new Community Disputes Resolution Bill was tabled in Parliament on Monday, and if passed, residents who cause "unreasonable disturbance" to their neighbours may face a fine of up to $5,000, or a jail term of up to three months for a first offence.

But these will be meted out only if the offender breaches a court order issued by a tribunal proposed under the Bill.

The new law aims at resolving complex disputes between feuding neighbours.

It is still in the works but that is already good news for many of those I spoke to in the heartland this week.

Mr Joe Low, 45, who helps out at his father's fishball stall in Tampines, says: "I think it is fantastic, especially since this means that the proposed tribunal will have more teeth to settle problems."

ENTHUSIASTIC

If Mr Low sounds enthusiastic, that is because he had been entangled in a long-drawn-out process "to work things out" with his former neighbour.

Confrontations over the neighbour's dog's incessant barking led to accusations of theft and damage of Mr Low's plants along the common corridor.

This went on for nearly two years.

Efforts to reach a truce through the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) were unsuccessful because his neighbour refused to turn up for any session.

The current no-show rate at mediation sessions is 60 per cent as attendance is not compulsory.

Mr Low moved out in March last year.

He says: "My wife and I just didn't want to engage in the ugliness."

Feuding neighbours can approach grassroots leaders or get help from the CMC. But the CMC cannot issue legal orders.

The planned Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals will be presided over by a judge with powers to compel neighbours to go for mediation and issue orders that must be obeyed.

In a report in The Straits Times yesterday, MPs welcomed the compulsory mediation but agreed that it should be used only as a final resort.

That observation is also shared by housewife Rosalina Yusof who had turned to her Residents' Committee (RC) chairman for help a few years ago.

Madam Rosalina, 53, who lives in Eunos, recalls how her neighbour in the unit below would bang on her door, accusing her of throwing dirty water on her laundry.

She says: "I'd explain over and over again that I did not, but she just would not believe me. This is even though there are three other units above mine.

"She went around bad-mouthing me to other neighbours, so much so that some of them started to shun me."

With the help of their RC chairman, Madam Rosalina managed to "prove her innocence" after he investigated and found out that it was the unintentional action of another neighbour's maid.

She says: "In this case, we managed to resolve it at our own level, which is a good thing."

COMMON PROBLEM

All 45 heartlanders randomly approached this week say they had been unhappy with their neighbours at one point or another. Every account sounds legitimate enough to be irritated about.

This Heartland Auntie thinks it is mainly because most of us live cheek by jowl in HDB estates. I have my share of neighbours who drive me up the wall.

A neighbour smokes so much that acrid air fills my room.

Another often wakes me up on Sunday mornings with her shrill screams for mundane reasons.

It is easy to flare up and get into a spat, I admit, but I don't think that should be the approach.

I like the idea that the new Bill could be a good avenue if ever one needs it.

But I also think that we should try to take the time to see if we can adjust our own expectations.

It takes a lot of giving and little taking if we want our neighbourly relationships to work out.

I'd explain over and over again that I did not but she just would not believe me... She went around bad-mouthing me to other neighbours, so much so that some of them started to shun me.

- Madam Rosalina Yusof on her Eunos neighbour


This article was first published on Jan 25, 2015.
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