How to resolve disputes with a neighbour from hell in Singapore

PHOTO: The Straits Times

Is your neighbour guilty of: splashing questionable substances along the corridor of your home, making a ruckus in the wee hours of the morning or late into the night, being physically or verbally violent towards you and your family or…all of the above?

If you answered yes to any of these, it sounds like you have a neighbour from hell.

With everyone living so close together in Singapore, complaints about neighbours making too much noise or damaging property are unfortunately not that uncommon.

What can you do if you have a dispute with your neighbour in Singapore?

While neighbour disputes are not within the purview of the Housing Development Board (HDB), there are several options open to you in resolving these disputes.

RESOLVE THE MATTER WITH YOUR NEIGHBOUR DIRECTLY

The first thing you should try to do is to speak to your neighbour directly, attempt to understand the reasons behind their actions, and reach a compromise.

Your neighbour may well be unaware that their actions are causing you so much distress.

Nevertheless, for those of you whose relationship with said neighbours has deteriorated past the point of no return, you can consider the following options below.

SPEAK WITH YOUR GRASSROOTS LEADERS

If you are facing difficulties engaging your neighbour, you may seek help from your grassroots leaders.

A grassroots leader can act as a neutral third-party to facilitate an informal mediation between the both of you.

The presence of a third-party makes it easier to reach a solution with a neighbour you may no longer be on talking terms with.

Such an informal mediation also avoids escalating the matter straight to the courts which may take up unnecessary time and costs.

Furthermore, since grassroots organisations work closely with each other as well as with government agencies, seeking the help of a grassroots leader may allow you to raise your concerns and get help from relevant agencies more quickly.

You can get in touch with your grassroots leaders through your nearest Community Club (CC). Locate your nearest CC and its contact information here.

MAKE A POLICE REPORT

Before deciding to make a police report on your neighbour’s actions, it is important to distinguish between an arrestable and a non-arrestable offence.

An arrestable offence (e.g. disorderly behaviour or voluntarily causing hurt with a dangerous weapon) is one that allows the police to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant. On the contrary, a non-arrestable offence (e.g. mischief or voluntarily causing hurt) requires the police to first obtain a warrant of arrest from the court before they can arrest the alleged offender.

If your neighbour has committed an arrestable offence against you, the police will follow the arrest procedures and may arrest your neighbour on the spot.

However, if your neighbour has committed a non-arrestable offence, the police will first respond to the scene to gather preliminary evidence before deciding what course of action to take.

They may gather witness reports and record the identities of parties involved for report-writing purposes.

This is important should you decide to further the matter in court later on as police reports can serve as useful evidence.

In the case of a non-arrestable offence, the police may also advise you to file a Magistrate’s Complaint or direct you to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC).

When doing so, the police can also assist you in making a mediation referral to the CMC.

If you suspect your neighbour is suffering from a mental illness, calling the police may also be a viable option.

This is because the police can apprehend any person who is reported to be mentally ill and is “believed to be dangerous to himself or other persons” and take him to a medical practitioner for an examination.

The medical practitioner may then send the person to a psychiatric institution for treatment.

If necessary, the individual may also be detained in the psychiatric institution.

In contrast, government and community-based agencies such as the town council do not have the power to compel a resident to seek treatment for a mental illness.

FILE A MAGISTRATE'S COMPLAINT

A Magistrate’s Complaint is only for criminal cases and therefore you should first consider if a criminal (but non-arrestable) offence has been committed against you by your neighbour.

This would include acts causing harrassment, alarm or distress or generating excessive noise causing annoyance to others.

You must file a Magistrate’s Complaint online. Once your Complaint has been filed, you will be brought before a Chambers Magistrate to be examined on oath. This is to ensure that your Complaint is a meritorious one.

Do note that there is no guarantee that the police will take action.

The Magistrate may direct the police to investigate only if he thinks your complaint is serious enough, and can dismiss it if there is insufficient evidence.

Eventually, you may be required to prepare charges against your neighbour so that a summons can be issued against him/her.

The matter may then be heard at the Community Court.

The Community Court is committed to finding sentencing alternatives that focus not just on punishing the offender, but aspects of rehabilitation and prevention.

Thus, instead of imposing a prison term, alternative sanctions such as a Community Service Order (CSO), a Day Reporting Order (DRO), or a Short Detention Order (SDO) are meted out by the Community Court.

Refer to our other article for more information on filing a Magistrate's Complaint.

MEDIATION AT THE COMMUNITY MEDIATION CENTRE (CMC)

Mediation at the CMC is a less drastic (and also less costly) measure than going to court.

It involves a trained neutral third-party called the mediator who will facilitate a conversation between you and your neighbour.

During mediation, you and your neighbour will have the chance to explain the issues underlying the conflict to the mediator.

This can be done either together as a group or separately in private sessions.

The mediator will then guide both of you towards coming up with solutions that are acceptable to both parties.

Once a mutually acceptable solution has been decided upon, both parties will enter into a written agreement.

Mediation is a very beneficial option because it is quite affordable.

The only cost to be incurred is a one-time $5 administrative fee regardless of the number of mediation sessions, which will be paid for by the applicant.

The respondent need not pay for this.

Mediation also has a high success rate. Over the last 20 years, the CMC has mediated more than 9,000 cases of which more than 70% were successfully resolved.

There are a few ways you can apply for mediation at the CMC:

  • Register via enquiry line: You may call CMC’s enquiry line at 1800-CALL-LAW (1800-2255-529) during Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays), 8.30am to 5.00pm.
  • Register online via SingPass: You can also register using your SingPass account.
  • Referral by agency (such as by the Police): As mentioned above, the police can also make a mediation referral to the CMC for you.

If mediation does not resolve the problem, then it may be time for you to take the matter to court.

FILE A CLAIM AT THE COMMUNITY DISPUTES RESOLUTION TRIBUNAL (CDRT)

WHAT IS THE CDRT?

The CDRT was established to provide an accessible and efficient platform for individuals to resolve their neighbour disputes in court.

It should be emphasised that because the CDRT is meant to be an avenue of last resort, and seeking mediation first is highly encouraged.

Otherwise, the judge may simply make an order for both parties to attend mediation at the CMC first without hearing the case.

WHAT DISPUTES DOES THE CDRT HEAR?

Before you decide to pursue your case at the CDRT, you must first ensure your dispute is one within the jurisdiction of the CDRT.

This is because the CDRT can only hear and decide a case that involves an “interference with enjoyment or use of place of residence” by a “neighbour”.

What this means is that not all cases of disturbances may entitle you to escalate the case to the CDRT.

See the table below to help you determine if your case is one that can be brought to the CDRT:

Who is considered my “neighbour”?
  • Individuals in places of residence only (no businesses or workplaces);
  • Lives in the same building as you OR lives within a 100 metre radius of your home; and
  • Not living in the same place of residence as you
What are some examples of “interference”?
  • Causing excessive noise, smell, smoke, light or vibration
  • Littering at or in the vicinity of your home
  • Obstructing your home
  • Interfering with your movable property
  • Conducting surveillance on you or your home (such as installing CCTV cameras), where the surveillance is done at or in the vicinity of your home
  • Trespassing on your home
  • Allowing their pet to trespass on your home, to cause excessive noise or smell, or to defecate or urinate at or in the vicinity of your home

HOW TO FILE A CLAIM AT THE CDRT

All claims to the CDRT must be made online through the Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS). Step-by-step instructions on how to submit a claim can be found here.

You should prepare all supporting documents such as:

  • Letters and emails to other agencies where help had previously been sought
  • Police reports
  • Photographs
  • Settlement agreements

Once you have filed a claim and made the requisite payments, you have to select a date and time for a Pre-Trial Conference (PTC).

Subsequently, your neighbour (the respondent) may choose to initiate e-Negotiation with you. Both parties will then attend the PTC at the scheduled date.

At the PTC, the judge may order for both parties to attend mediation or counselling sessions.

You or your neighbour may request for this to be done online through e-Mediation.

The e-Mediation function enables both parties to resolve the dispute online with the help of a court mediator so that none of you have to be physically present in court.

The e-Mediation can take place at a date and time most suitable for all parties.

If both of you reach a settlement during the mediation, you may proceed to withdraw your claim or apply for an online consent order through the CJTS without going to court.

If, however, the case is not settled even after mediation, both parties will proceed to attend a hearing in court.

The CDRT will issue a Notice of Hearing to both parties.

A detailed flowchart of the CDRT process can be found on the State Courts’ guidebook on pages 8 and 9.

Bringing a case to the CDRT is not cheap.

The filing fees alone can amount to at least $150.

This excludes court hearing fees and fees that will be incurred should you decide to appeal the judgment.

More information on the fees you may incur to bring your case to the CDRT is available here.

WHAT ORDERS CAN THE CDRT MAKE?

The CDRT can make the following orders:

  • Damages (an order for your neighbour to pay you a sum of money) up to $20,000
  • Injunction (an order for your neighbour to stop doing something)
  • Specific performance (an order for your neighbour to do something)
  • Apology (an order for your neighbour to apologise to you)
  • Other order giving effect to the above court orders

If the amount of damages you are claiming exceed $20,000, then you may consider filing a claim at the civil courts (e.g. Magistrates’ Courts) instead.

In determining which order to make, the court will take into account factors such as the:

  • Impact of the order on your neighbour
  • Impact of the order on any person who resides in your neighbour’s home
  • Ordinary instances of daily living that can be expected to be tolerated by reasonable persons living in Singapore.

If all of the above fails, then perhaps it is time to consider moving out.

When looking for a new house, be sure to talk to the residents in that area to see if there are potential neighbours you may find difficult to live around.

You may also wish to consult a lawyer if you need legal advice on dealing with a neighbour from hell.

This article was first published in SingaporeLegalAdvice.

SingaporeLegalAdvice.com is a legal platform for individuals and small business owners needing legal help. The information provided above does not constitute legal advice and is to be followed at your own risk. You should obtain specific legal advice from a lawyer before taking any legal action.

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