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    May 07, 2015

    Feuding neighbours? Talk it out, don't just simmer

    IN THE wee hours, loud bangs sometimes shake the rental flat where freelance casting agent Madam Lina, 39, lives with her three children.

    They believe the sounds are made by their neighbour downstairs.

    "This is really stressful when you need peace and quiet at home," said Madam Lina, who works from home on a freelance basis, helping to cast actors.

    But the neighbour, who goes by the name of Madam Tan, in turn, also said that Madam Lina's family is noisy too. She denied making any noise.

    The long-running saga has not seen any resolution despite calls made to police and community mediation attempts.

    Their case is part of a larger trend of how neighbours are turning to the authorities for intervention.

    More residents now refer disputes to the authorities and fewer confront neighbours directly, according to a Housing Board survey conducted every five years.

    In 2013, three in 10 residents faced nuisances from their neighbours such as noise or littering, but took no action.

    Another 9.4 per cent faced issues and went to the authorities, up from 7.4 per cent in 2008.

    A smaller proportion resolved issues directly with their neighbours. In 2013, 9.1 per cent did so, down from 12 per cent before.

    HDB and Members of Parliament are some of the authorities residents turn to.

    But neighbours should also try to talk to each other, said MPs. "When there's no talking, the resentment builds up," said Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng.

    HDB usually advises neighbours to resolve disputes themselves, and requests grassroots leaders' help to mediate if needed, said an HDB spokesman. "In most cases, residents are cooperative."

    But if the issue persists, HDB will advise them to go to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC).

    Disputes between neighbours formed 56 per cent of the 571 cases handled by the CMC last year, or about 320 cases. This is up slightly from 294 cases in 2013, but still lower than the recent peak of more than 400 cases in 2009.

    The most common issues are noise, common-corridor obstructions and verbal quarrels.

    Said the CMC: "These are issues which arise from living in a community. It is therefore important to try and resolve the dispute in a manner that preserves neighbourly relations."

    One reason for the persistent conflicts could be that fewer residents are getting to know their neighbours in the first place, said Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary William Wan.

    "When an issue arises, they think 'I never really knew you, so there's no point talking to you.' It's a problem. You really must try to talk and connect with each other first," he added.

    But for tougher cases, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Gan Thiam Poh hopes the upcoming Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal will help. It will be ready in the second half of this year.

    Unlike voluntary community mediation, the tribunal can order mandatory mediation and issue orders for parties to stop the disturbance or pay damages.

    The CMC was where Madam Lina's family and Madam Tan, a 50-year-old unemployed woman, went in February.

    Though they came to an agreement then, the noises resumed in March, said Madam Lina.

    The family turned to social media. On April 21, eldest daughter Shalina, 20, uploaded a video of the noise and a confrontation with Madam Tan on Facebook.

    "I was hoping that people she knows might see it and tell her to stop knocking," said Ms Shalina, who works in customer service.