The Current Situation
In a densely-packed community like Singapore, it is easy for differences with neighbours to escalate into disputes. Common complaints include excessive noise, smoke, or littering caused by neighbours. Right now, the most common form of resolution is mediation at the Community Mediation Centre. However, according to statistics given in Parliament, 60 percent of residents do now show up for mediation as it is not compulsory.
Where mediation fails, it is left to the resident to commence a private prosecution or a civil lawsuit. This usually means that the resident has to engage a lawyer to represent him, and there would be associated legal costs.
New Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals
The Community Disputes Resolution Bill passed in March changes this. Under the Bill, Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals will be set up. These Tribunals will hear cases where residents have unreasonably interfered with their neighbours’ enjoyment of the residence. The Tribunals have the power to order compulsory mediation, with criminal consequences if the order is not complied with. A special feature is the availability of community dispute orders, under which a tribunal can order the award of damages of up to $20,000, an injunction to stop a neighbour from doing something, specific performance to compel him to do something, or other measures as the court sees fit.
The costs of proceedings will be lower as compared to normal civil proceedings, as no lawyers are expected to be involved. To ensure fairness, a third party may present a case on behalf of a party who is a minor, elderly, illiterate, or mentally or physically unwell. The Tribunals will have jurisdiction to hear claims of up to $20,000.
It is worth noting that the Tribunals are intended to be a last resort, where mediation and reconciliation efforts between the neighbours have failed.
The Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals promise to offer an inexpensive way to resolve neighbour disputes. They are expected to be operational by the second half of 2015.