Proposed changes to framework for tackling neighbour disputes welcomed, but experts concerned about officers entering homes
Article Date: 16 May 2023
Author: Sakinah Arif Lim
If proposed changes to a framework are finalised, it will be mandatory for neighbours in a dispute to undergo mediation first before they take it further to the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals, a specialised court that manages unresolved disputes.
- A public consultation on changes to the Community Dispute Management Framework is underway to help mediate disputes between neighbours
- Condominium managers and grassroots leaders welcomed the proposed changes, saying they had been powerless in managing neighbour disputes
- Legal experts also welcomed the proposals, but warned that mandatory mediation may not be the end-all
- They also feel that there needs to be clarity on the situations in which an enforcement officer can enter a home
Mary (not her real name), a 30-year-old resident from Jurong West, gets woken up every day at 5am by her neighbours ever since they moved in last year into a unit below hers.
“When they wake up, I also wake up with them,” the engineer, who wanted to remain anonymous, told TODAY on Friday (May 12).
According to her, everything can be heard from her neighbours’ house, from “very loud” music being blasted to dragging noises made by moving furniture.
“I can hear their Google Home notification from my master bedroom,” she claimed.
Mary said that she had raised the issue with the Housing and Development Board, her ward's Member of Parliament and the police, to no avail.
Acting on a legal clinic's advice, she spoke to her neighbours to try to resolve the problem, but they later accused her of harassment. She is now considering legal recourse.
To help neighbours settle such disputes, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth on Wednesday announced a number of proposed changes to the Community Dispute Management Framework.
Set up in 2014, the framework encourages the use of mediation in settling disputes between neighbours at the community level.
Among the proposed changes to the framework, it will be mandatory for neighbours in a dispute to undergo mediation first before they take it further to the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT), a specialised court that manages unresolved disputes.
Ms Aw Wen Ni, a partner at WongPartnership, said that as mediation is currently not mandatory before parties commence a claim at the CDRT, the unhappiness between neighbours is "unnecessarily escalated before they even attempt mediation".
CURRENT MEASURES 'MORE LIKE BARKING; YOU CAN'T REALLY BITE'
Meanwhile, condominium managers and grassroots leaders have welcomed the proposals, which they believe will address the limitations in existing measures.
They said that they had been powerless in managing neighbourly disputes, even if they attempted to get the police involved.
“The biggest challenge is (that) when you have a dispute, it’s very unlikely that both parties would be willing to mediate... The authorities will never get involved,” Mr Alexandre Collin, 43, the chairman of Management Corporation Strata Title for One Shenton, said.
If the police do not get involved, the condominium management is often left to deal with such disputes but is unable to fully investigate without being able to enter homes, Mr Derek Lit, 45, the executive director of CWL Facilities Management, said.
“Right now, the measures that we have, it’s more like barking; you can’t really bite,” Mr Lit added.
The most common causes of neighbourly disputes are often noise-related involving loud music or banging sounds, Mr Collin and Mr Lit said.
“There were instances where people wouldn’t open the door and the police were powerless,” Mr Collin added.
Grassroots leaders and volunteers similarly do not have sufficient resources to handle neighbourly disputes and are limited in what they can do, said Ms Adelene Tan Choon Yan, vice chairman of the Clementi Citizens' Consultative Committees.
For instance, they can only talk to residents about their problems and ask them to obtain evidence in order to support their claims.
Legal experts also welcomed the proposals, with Ms Aw from WongPartnership saying that mediation may help mend the relationship between the neighbours at an earlier stage, without them having to take the matter further.
“This will also help to preserve the possibility of the parties fostering more neighbourly relationships in the future,” she added.
Mr Terence Tan, associate director at Drew & Napier, said that “it would be ideal if all community disputes could be resolved peacefully”.
However, he warned that mandatory mediation may not be the end-all as it potentially risks putting innocent parties to greater suffering by prolonging their wait for relief should the perpetrator persist with their conduct and prevent the parties from taking further action.
Another proposed amendment to the framework is to allow enforcement officers to enter homes to put a stop to ongoing nuisances.
On this, Ms Aw said that there should be "egregious breaches" of special directions from CDRT before enforcement officers are allowed to enter a place of residence to stop an ongoing nuisance "as that clearly affects the sanctity of one’s dwelling".
"Enforcement officers should also only be allowed to do so under exceptional circumstances and where their authority is clearly demonstrated," she said.
Ms Aw added that there needs to be clarity on the situations in which an enforcement officer can enter a home.
"The enforcement officer should only be allowed to carry out the actions as indicated in the (court) order, for instance, to stop the act of nuisance, and nothing more," she said.
“The enhancements are in the right direction, but we must ensure that we strike the right balance between the sanctity of one’s dwelling, and to allow authorities to take more steps to address serious and persistent cases of nuisance.”
Mr Tan said that people should not be concerned about how this proposal infringes on their rights and privacy, "provided there are adequate safeguards built into the process and the enforcement powers are used by the enforcement officers judiciously within clear guidelines".
The proposed changes to the Community Dispute Management Framework are up for public consultation and members of the public may give their feedback until the end of May at go.gov.sg/feedbackcdmf.
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