SINGAPORE - Community mediators have seen an increase in requests for help with neighbour disputes as more stay home during the Covid-19 pandemic and frictions increase, said Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong.
However, more can still be done to help resolve such conflicts so these cases do not escalate to the courts, he said.
Helping residents gain a better understanding of their rights and obligations under the law will be one step towards this.
In this vein, Relationship and Healing is the theme for this year's Law Awareness Week @ Community Development Council (LAW @ CDC) 2021, which Mr Tong launched virtually on Saturday (Sept 25) along with the five mayors.
The minister noted that "a common misconception is that a person can do whatever they wish within their home, leading to complaints about excessive noise or second-hand smoke".
From January to September last year, the Housing Board logged about 11,400 complaints about noise from residents, more than triple the 3,600 reports for the same period in 2019.
The number of complaints from residents about second-hand smoke shot up to 2,500 a month for May and June last year, from below 2,000 before, according to the Municipal Services Office.
If squabbling residents turn to the authorities instead of trying to resolve the matter among themselves, they will be referred to a mediator and the case may go before the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal, which comes under the State Courts.
Last year, the tribunal saw a doubling of cases, which included neighbourly disputes, from 108 in 2019 to 211.
Making their case before a judge can be even more stressful for the neighbours, Mr Tong said, and community mediation is a preferred course of action.
"While neighbourly disputes often do not involve complicated legal concepts, they can be highly contentious and evoke strong emotions between neighbours," he said.
The Community Mediation Centre (CMC) is a new partner in this year's LAW @ CDC.
A series of webinars will give members of the public basic legal knowledge on family, community and employment issues.
Some of the CMC's volunteer lawyers, who are community mediators, will be speaking at some of the webinars, whose topics include navigating divorce and how to seek help for online harassment.
"This will add a new dimension to the talks as it introduces mediation as an alternative method to resolve legal issues whilst preserving and healing relationships, apart from the usual litigation," said Mr Tong.
He cited a dispute between two neighbours over second-hand smoke, that had dragged on for years.
One man was unhappy that his neighbour sprayed air freshener into his flat whenever he smoked.
During community mediation, the man realised that his neighbour had developed chest infections because of the second-hand smoke, and shared that he would have stopped if he had been approached respectfully.
Mr Desmond Choo, Mayor of North East District and host mayor of LAW @ CDC this year, said: "At the crux of what we aim to deliver in this 2021 edition is for members in our society to use mediation as means to promote healing."