Got bad neighbours? No, we’re not talking about the film of the same name, we mean actual disputes with the people next door. Unfortunately, the real thing isn’t as funny as the film (or maybe it is?), and dealing with bad neighbours in your HDB flat can drive even the calmest person to the brink.
Like it or not, Singapore is a densely populated country. If you live in a bungalow you may have more privacy, but if you live in an apartment, chances are, your neighbours are quite close by. That’s probably why complaints about noise, verbal abuse, and property damage aren’t all that uncommon.
Unresolved disputes can cause a lot of stress and unhappiness for not just you and your family, but the ‘bad neighbours’ in question, as well as other residents in the area who have to witness the dispute. If you’re caught in a fix and are looking for help, here’s what you can do.
Spoiler alert: neighbour disputes are not within the purview of HDB
In other words, HDB cannot help to resolve the matter because it is not within their jurisdiction. HDB is by large a housing developer.
That’s why despite filing complaints to HDB, the residents’ committee and even writing to the MP, these 6 households were driven to eventually move out of their flats, all thanks to one ‘neighbour from hell’.
Needless to say, moving out is the last resort — not only is it expensive, but you’ll also need to find a buyer who’s willing to buy a flat that’s next to a problematic neighbour. Not to mention that you can only do so once your 5-year Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) is up. So what else can you do besides packing up and leaving?
#1. Speak to the neighbour
Many times, it could be down to miscommunication or lack of awareness (e.g. your neighbour weren’t aware of their noise levels). So the first logical step is to speak to your neighbour directly to clear the air. It’s best to speak calmly and clearly, instead of using an accusing tone.
#2. Speak to your grassroot leader
If talking to your neighbour doesn’t resolve anything, then perhaps you could seek help from the grassroot leader who’s in charge of your block. The presence of a grassroot leader may make it easier to reach a solution since he/she is considered as a neutral third-party. Since a grassroot leader also works closely with other government agencies, this will help to escalate the issue to other government bodies more quickly should further help be required. This is also a good way to resolve the issue without bringing it to court, which will cost you extra time and money.
#3. Call the police
If peaceful solutions don’t resolve the problem, then involving the police is probably the next step. Their presence and a stern warning is usually enough to deter the perpetrator.
You could also consider making a police report, but bear in mind that most neighbour disputes are usually considered as non-arrestable offences. It is important to distinguish the differences between arrestable offence and non-arrestable offence beforehand.
If the offence is arrestable (e.g. voluntarily causing grievous hurt, voluntarily causing hurt with a dangerous weapon), the police can arrest the person without a warrant.
On the other hand, if the offence is considered as non-arrestable, then the police will need to obtain a warrant to apprehend the offender.
For non-arrestable offences, the police will do an investigation, including gathering witness statements and the identity of those involved in their report. This report will come handy if you decide to bring this to court as they contain evidence.
If the case is considered as a non-arrestable offence, the police will advise you to file a Magistrate Complaint if you want to press charges, or seek help from your Community Mediation Centre (CMC) to resolve the dispute amicably.
#4. File a Magistrate Complaint
If the case is deemed non-arrestable, you can file a Magistrate Complaint and lodge a private prosecution if you believe a criminal offence has been committed against you. You will have to file the complaint online and can seek help from a criminal lawyer.
Then, both the Compliant (i.e. you) and Respondent (i.e. your neighbour) will be called before a Chambers Magistrate and will be examined on oath. This is to ensure that the case is serious enough to pursue. The Magistrate will ask questions to get a better evaluation of the matter and may also request for supporting documents and evidence.
Bear in mind that the Magistrate can choose not to ask the police to investigate further if insufficient evidence is available, or if he/she thinks that the case doesn’t warrant further investigation. You should also prepare for charges lest that summons will be pressed against your neighbour. The case will then be heard at the Community Court.
#5. Go for mediation
Mediation is the preferred way for most because it’s less costly and it has a high success rate. Basically, it will be conducted at the CMC by a neutral third-party known as a mediator. The mediator will facilitate the conversation between you and your neighbour.
Both you and your neighbour will have a chance to explain your side of the story to the mediator, and this can be done either together or in separate, private sessions. The mediator will then help to come up with agreeable solutions for both parties. Once a mutual solution has been accepted by both parties, they will have to sign a written agreement.
As mentioned, mediation is quite popular because it’s cheap and has a high settlement rate of about 70%. You will only need to pay a one-time administrative fee of $5 (regardless of the number of sessions) while your neighbour doesn’t have to fork out anything.
However, because it’s not legally-binding, the downside to this is that your neighbour may not abide by the rules and can also decline to attend the mediation session. That being said, you can use that as further evidence should your neighbour revert back to being a nuisance.
Here’s how to apply for mediation at the CMC:
Via enquiry line: You may call CMC’s enquiry line at 1800-CALL-LAW (1800-2255-529) during Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays), 8.30am to 5.00pm
Online via SingPass: You can also register using your SingPass account
Referral by agency (such as by the police): The police can make a mediation referral to the CMC
#6. Take the matter to the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals
If none of the above works, you can pursue your case at The Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT).
The CDRT was established to resolve disputes between neighbours in court. But before you decide to pursue the case, note that not every case can be brought to the CDRT. Only cases that involve “interference with enjoyment or use of place of residence” by a “neighbour” – which is legally defined as “individuals living either in the same building or within 100m of each other.”
Some examples of these ‘interference’ cases are:
- Causing excessive noise, smell, smoke, light or vibration
- Littering at or in the vicinity of your home
- Obstructing your home
- Interfering with your movable property
- Conducting surveillance on you or your home (such as installing CCTV cameras), where the surveillance is done at or in the vicinity of your home
- Trespassing on your home
- Allowing their pet to trespass on your home, to cause excessive noise or smell, or to defecate or urinate at or in the vicinity of your home
You can file a claim online via the Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS). You’ll need some supporting documents such as:
- Letters and emails to other agencies where help had previously been sought
- Police reports
- Settlement agreements
Once you have made a claim and requisite payments, you need to select a time and date for a Pre-Trial Conference (PTC). Your neighbour can negotiate the date. Then, you and your neighbour will have to attend the PTC at the agreed date.
Long story short, the judge may order both parties to attend mediation (this can be done online as well). If this can be settled, you can withdraw your claim. Otherwise, both parties will need to attend court.
Bringing a case to the CDRT will cost you at least $150 just for the filing fees alone, excluding other charges such as court hearing fees. So consider this aspect beforehand.
The CDRT can help you with the following:
- Claim for damages (an order for your neighbour to pay you a sum of money) up to $20,000
- Injunction (an order for your neighbour to stop doing something)
- Specific performance (an order for your neighbour to do something)
- Apology (an order for your neighbour to apologise to you)
- Any other order giving effect to the above court orders
If the damages exceed $20,000, then you can consider filing a claim at the civil courts (e.g. Magistrates’ Court) instead.
In determining which order to make, the court will take into account factors such as the:
- Impact of the order on your neighbour
- Impact of the order on any person who resides in your neighbour’s home
- Ordinary instances of daily living that can be expected to be tolerated by reasonable persons living in Singapore
What if the neighbour doesn’t comply with the order?
If the neighbour still does not comply with the order, then the CDRT can impose special direction. The Complainant (i.e. you) can ask your neighbour to comply within a specified time. If your neighbour fails to do so, then it’s a criminal offence, and he/she could either risk a $5,000 fine or/and 3 months imprisonment, or ask to be excluded from his/her home if convicted, just like this Bukit Panjang family.
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