Feuding neighbours: Noise, littering among complaints handled by tribunals

Blocks of HDB flats in Hougang Avenue 10.
Blocks of HDB flats in Hougang Avenue 10.PHOTO: ST FILE

Most common complaints are noise, littering, interfering with movable items

A woman complained about the din made by her neighbours downstairs when they sang karaoke.

They hit back by leaving their main door and windows open, and hurling vulgarities at the woman and her family. Early this year, the woman filed a claim with the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT) - one of almost 80 made from October last year, when it opened, to July 31.

The tribunals, which are given powers to resolve disputes between neighbours under the Community Disputes Resolution Act passed last year, received more than 930 inquiries in the same period.

These statistics were revealed yesterday by the State Courts, which oversees the tribunals, in conjunction with its first seminar on resolving community disputes. Some 300 people from government agencies and community groups attended the event.

As in the case of the woman and her karaoke-singing neighbours, nearly 70 per cent of the cases included complaints about excessive noise.

Other pet peeves are littering and interfering with movable property, each forming about a quarter of the cases. There may be more than one cause of dispute for each claim.

In the case of the woman, an order was issued to the other family to close all windows and doors completely when using the karaoke machine. They were not to use the machine when her children were having examinations, if told of the exam periods.

Both parties were also not to stare at each other or make abusive comments and sounds if they met.

Before the tribunals were introduced, people turned to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) if they could not settle disputes on their own or even with the help of grassroots leaders. But there is little the authorities can do if the neighbours do not want to make up. Some do not even turn up. The no-show rate at the CMC was about 60 per cent.

The tribunals, which have 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 getting a neighbour to pay damages or apologise.

Still, while the tribunals do not conduct mediation, a State Courts spokesman said parties are "strongly encouraged" to go for mediation voluntarily before filing a claim.

Those who inquire with the tribunals will be referred to a free consultation to understand court processes and consider alternatives to resolution. Even when a claim has been filed, parties may be ordered to go through mediation.

MPs told The Straits Times that spats between residents are common.

Said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin: "There are often several sides to an issue, and it does take time to find solutions. Sometimes, we are not able to achieve a positive outcome."

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad added: "Mediation has a certain weakness to it. You can't force parties to attend it."

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said: "It is neither practical nor desirable for most disputes to go to the CDRT. I hope most cases can continue to be resolved with compromise and consideration, with the grassroots leaders' help."

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Correction note: An earlier version of this article stated that nearly 70 of the cases included complaints about excessive noise. The figure should be nearly 70 per cent. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Feuding neighbours'. Print Edition | Subscribe