'She didn't turn up for mediation'

Madam Ng (left) found her potted plants doused with bleach. Madam Xie (right) claims that Madam Ng had toppled her shoe cabinet the previous day.
PHOTO: Lianhe Wanbao

She claims she was the victim of Hokkien vulgarities, accused of things she has never done, and even called a "chicken" (Chinese slang for prostitute) by her neighbour.

Frustrated, the housewife, who wanted to be known as Madam Ng, sought the Community Mediation Centre's (CMC) help last year in the hope of resolving the dispute.

Four CMCs letters to her neighbour, whom she knows as Madam Xie, were ignored, leaving Madam Ng, 56, helpless.

In a dispute like this, when one party fails to turn up for mediation at the CMC, he or she can now be called for mandatory mediation through the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT).

The CDRT, which starts operating today, is part of the Government's enhanced measures to tackle community disputes.

Madam Ng told The New Paper yesterday that the falling-out at Toa Payoh Lorong 5 started last June, with Madam Xie, 45, making snarky comments in Hokkien.

Madam Ng said whenever she scolded her husband at home, her neighbour, who lives two units away, would deliberately antagonise her.

"She called me arrogant and said I did nothing at home except to scold my husband. If I shout at my husband, this is my family affair. I don't need any unnecessary remark from her.

"I've been living here for more than 10 years. (The other residents here) know I scold my husband. She doesn't see when I pamper my husband. Who is she to interfere in my personal life?" Madam Ng said.

VULGARITIES

Sometimes, the comments escalate to vulgarities, the housewife alleged.

The pair have separately called the police several times in hopes of sorting out the dispute, but to no avail.

"The police suggested that I go to CMC. But she did not want to turn up for mediation," Madam Ng said in exasperation.

In a report in Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao in August, Madam Xie, a factory worker, said she ignored CMC's four letters as she felt she was not in the wrong.

The pair's most recent squabble was in July. Madam Xie found her shoe cabinet knocked over in the corridor, and assumed it was Madam Ng's doing as the housewife was the only one in the corridor when she rushed out of the flat after hearing a loud noise.

The next morning, when Madam Ng was about to leave her flat for a jog, she found her 14 potted plants and bonsai doused with bleach.

"The smell of chlorine was very strong. When I opened my door, I saw (Madam Xie) running away quickly," she said.

She added that she kept the bleach container as evidence.

Madam Xie, 45, admitted that she had poured the bleach as she assumed Madam Ng had tipped the cabinet over and was furious, evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported in August.

She had told Wanbao that there was no point in going for mediation as she was not in the wrong. Vexed, Madam Ng said: "But mediation is not about who is right or wrong, it's about solving the problem."

With the inception of the tribunal, Madam Ng hopes there will be some form of resolution to her dispute with Madam Xie when something crops up again.

"I fear that one day, I can't curb my anger and will get into a fight with her," the housewife said.

New way to deal with 'neighbours from hell'

"Neighbours from hell" may be made to move out of their homes in a worst-case scenario, thanks to the new Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT).

The specialised courts, which start operating today, are constituted under the Community Disputes Resolution Act passed in Parliament in March.

Previously, mediation was done only at the grassroots level, or at the Community Mediation Centre (CMC).

Then Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong told Parliament in March that 30 per cent of cases at the CMC remain unresolved. The CMC also sees a 60 per cent no-show rate - parties fail to attend about 900 out of 1,500 cases every year.

With the CDRTs, neighbours can now seek legal recourse at the Community Justice and Tribunals Division of the State Courts.

CDRTs will take on disputes that are related to "unreasonable interference" with one's enjoyment or use of places of residences, including issues like excessive noise, smoke and littering at or in the vicinity.

INFORMAL

Hearings will be informal and led by a judge. The parties will not have any legal representation by default.

Those who wish to file a claim must do so with the neighbour's full name and address, as well as evidence of the unreasonable acts.

At a pre-trial conference, the judge may order the two parties to go for mandatory mediation.

For disputes that are unresolved, 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 make sure his neighbour complies. Penalties include a maximum fine of $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.

fjieying@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 1, 2015.
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