Neighbours lack communication and increasingly intolerant: CMC
SINGAPORE - From dripping laundry to obstruction at common areas to the cooking of curry, there have been more than 300 cases a year since 2008 of warring neighbours taking to mediation to iron out their differences.
Last year, the proportion of neighbour disputes handled by the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) hit a high - with such cases making up two thirds of the total case load. And the trend has not escaped the attention of the authorities.
Responding to Today's queries, a Housing and Development Board (HDB) spokesman said that it is currently reviewing its penalty framework for public nuisance and is consulting views from various stakeholders.
The spokesman added that the authorities will take enforcement action, as a last resort, if the disturbance in question affects the neighbourhood, and when all efforts to resolve the matter amicably have failed.
The spokesman said: "In such instances, the HDB may initiate legal action to compulsorily acquire the flat or impose the penalty."
The CMC is the main mediation body here for social, community and family disputes that do not involve a seizable offence.
Out of the 498 cases seen by the CMC last year, 67 per cent were neighbour disputes, an increase from the 2007 where such disputes only made up 50 per cent of the centre's caseload. (see table)
According to the CMC, 75 per cent of these mediated neighbour dispute cases usually reach settlement.
Still, according to two CMC volunteer mediators - who have about 13 years of experience presiding over 200 cases each - neighbours are getting increasingly intolerant of each other and pick on trivial matters at times. There is also a lack of communication, so when conflicts arise, they would rather seek a third party than settle the matter themselves.
Madam Marcellina Giam, 54, a CMC master mediator, told Today: "I feel (neighbours) are less tolerant these days and they are bringing very small neighbourhood disputes to the CMC like disputes over a few pots of flowers or washing the corridor, which never used to happen."
Fellow master mediator Thirunal Karasu Palaniappan, 49, added that unlike in the past, when the "kampung spirit" was strong and neighbours ventured into each other's homes freely, many neighbours now do not know each other.
A silver lining
Most of the cases the mediators have seen are between neighbours living in public housing, though they have handled some cases involving residents of private estates. About 80 cases the CMC saw in the past two years were also referred to it by the HDB. This is out of the 1,700 complaints on inconsiderate neighbour behaviour the HDB receives on average in a year.
Mediators are also seeing more disputes involving new immigrants. Both mediators felt that most of the cases they see could be easily solved by the neighbours themselves but the latter choose not to.
As a dispute can usually take up to one hour to resolve and in one session, they said this showed how all that was needed was face-to-face communication to settle matters amicably.
While mediators are seeing a greater proportion of neighbour disputes among the cases that they handle, the good news is that fewer neighbours are taking the legal route to resolve their differences.
According to the Subordinate Courts, with the introduction of a more rigorous and proactive case management and pre-trial process last year, a majority of magistrates' complaints - which include neighbour disputes - have been resolved without the need for a full trial.
In 2009, there were 4,569 magistrates' complaints filed but this dropped by 412 complaints to 4,157 last year. In the first six months of this year, there were about 1,800 magistrates' complaints.
This translates to fewer cases in the Neighbourhood Court, a dedicated court set in 2008 solely to deal with neighbour disputes.
"Frivolous and unmeritorious complaints are weeded out at an early stage while the rest are settled by way of mediation, which has been very successful," said a Subordinates Courts spokesman.
When neighbours disagree ...
by Quek Sue Wen Carolyn
Case 1: A family, who had just moved here from China, had resorted to mediation because they could not stand the smell of curry that their Singaporean Indian neighbours would often cook. The Indian family, who were mindful of their neighbour's aversion, had already taken to closing their doors and windows whenever they cooked the dish, but this was not enough.
"They said: 'Can you please do something? Can you don't cook curry? Can you don't eat curry?'," said Madam Marcellina Giam, a Community Mediation Centre mediator. But the Indian family stood firm. In the end, Mdm Giam got the Indian family to agree to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not home. In return, they wanted their Chinese neighbours to at least give their dish a try.
Like that also can? 请不要煮咖喱!