New tribunal to better resolve difficult disputes between neighbours

SINGAPORE - Neighbours with disputes that cannot be resolved even after mediation can soon turn to a tribunal for help.

Parliament passed the Community Disputes Resolution Bill on Friday, allowing a tribunal judge to order an offender to pay damages of up to $20,000, or apologise to his/her neighbour, for instance.

Offensive actions cited as examples in the Bill include causing excessive noise or smell, or allowing one's pet to urinate near a neighbour's home.

Currently, people can seek help at the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) if they cannot resolve disputes either on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders. But the centre cannot issue legal orders, and there is little the authorities can do if the neighbours do not want to make up.

The tribunal, however, can make a "special directive" for the offending party to comply with the court order. Breaching that directive could lead to the party being fined up to $5,000 or jailed for up to three months for a first offence.

The tribunal can also order neighbours to go for compulsory mediation - a key move, given the dismal attendance at the CMC. Currently, attendance is not compulsory, and the no-show rate is 60 per cent. This is despite the resolution rate of 75 per cent for cases in which the neighbours do show up.

kxinghui@sph.com.sg