Neighbourly disputes in Singapore

Incessant playing of the piano during the Circuit Breaker causes nuisance between neighbours

1. Introduction

Disputes between neighbours in Singapore are not uncommon. These neighbourly disputes include:

  • Activities that generate unacceptable smell
  • Activities that generate excessive smoke
  • Animal related complaints
  • Causing damage to property
  • Display of unacceptable behaviour or conduct
  • Dripping of water from laundry or other sources
  • Littering
  • Misuse or obstruction of common property such as HDB corridor obstruction
  • Noise complaints (for e.g. noisy neighbours that create unacceptable noise from 10:30pm to 7:00am)
  • Utterance or unacceptable words

The first neighbour dispute case where an Exclusion Order was issued by the Community Dispute Resolution Tribunal, involved a family that was allegedly harassed incessantly with hammering sounds and loud music.

2. Disputes between neighbours rose in 2020

According to the written answer by the Ministry of National Development (“MND”) on the number of complaints received in relation to noise from neighbours in HDB estates since the start of 2020, from January to September 2020, HDB has received about 11,400 cases of feedback relating to noise from residents’ daily activities, up from about 3,600 cases for the same time period in 2019.

From January to March 2020, there were about 500 cases of such feedback per month. This increased to about 1,800 cases of feedback per month from April to July 2020, especially during the Circuit Breaker period when most of us had to stay at home.

From August 2020, the number of such feedback dropped to 1,300 per month, likely due to the return of students to school and more workers to workplaces.

One such neighbourly nuisance case that happened during Circuit Breaker was between condominium neighbours who allegedly splashed water and caused unreasonable noise from bouncing of basketball. She was brought to court in a private prosecution. The trial to continue in July.

Recently, in a separate neighbourly dispute where the neighbour not only attempted to resolve the dispute by reaching out to the neighbour but also contacted the condominium managing body but to no avail. This dispute arises out of a neighbour’s incessant playing of the piano during the Circuit Breaker, and it continues for another six months from October 2020.

3. Joel Comments in CNA

Joel Wong was approached by CNA for his comments on what the residents with nuisance neighbours do to resolve their dispute and if most of these disputes are resolved.

Joel explains:

A magistrate’s complaint seeks punishment for the offender, while a civil suit seeks compensation.

In magistrate’s complaints, the person filing it will have to bear his own legal costs, while costs in a civil suit are decided at the end based on “blameworthiness”.

Whether getting a stiff penalty in court is enough to stop a neighbour depends on their personality and demeanour.

In general, yes – an adverse court ruling is likely to deter the neighbour from causing further nuisance.