Recalcitrant neighbours can be taken to court

New tribunals can make excessively difficult culprits comply with order

Neighbours who are excessively noisy or hard to live with in other ways can now be hauled to court if mediation fails to resolve issues.

Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT) start today, and they will let judges order an offender to pay damages of up to $20,000, or apologise to his neighbour, for instance.

The tribunals will take on cases of recalcitrant offenders who - through excessive noise, smell, smoke, light or vibration, or littering - interfere with their neighbours' enjoyment of their residence.

Costs at the new tribunals are also lower than those at other courts so that more people have access to it.

Filing an application at the CDRT will cost $150, compared to the $190 at a District Court. CDRT's total cost is estimated to be $200, compared to the $510 at a District Court.

Costs are also lower as no lawyers are involved and all proceedings are judge-led.

The CDRT was first mooted by outgoing Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong in March last year.

He stressed that it is intended as a final resort to resolve long-standing disputes, after community mediation efforts have been exhausted.

Previously, people could turn to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) if they could not resolve disputes either on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders.

But the CMC cannot issue legal orders, and there is little the authorities can do if the neighbours do not want to make up.

The tribunals will take on cases of recalcitrant offenders who - through excessive noise, smell, smoke, light or vibration, or littering - interfere with their neighbours' enjoyment of their residence.

The CDRT, however, can issue a special directive to 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 tribunals can also order neighbours to go for compulsory mediation. Currently, attendance is not compulsory, and the no-show rate is about 60 per cent.

This is despite the resolution rate of 75 per cent for cases in which disputing parties do show up.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline 'Recalcitrant neighbours can be taken to court'. Print Edition | Subscribe