'I was challenged on which side I am on': Mediator on difficulties settling disputes between warring neighbours

The occasional loud music aside, peace has returned in the past few months for those living in Block 280 Tampines Street 22. 

For Syafiq Sadiq, it’s a welcome change – after living with a “neighbour from hell” for six years.

“He still plays the radio a bit louder than usual, but he’s toned down a lot,” the 34-year-old tech analyst told AsiaOne last Saturday (March 4), in an update about his neighbour’s latest antics.

“Maybe it’s the fact you knocked on his door before. But I can tell you, I don’t see cops here anymore.”

The Tampines resident’s latest assessment is a stark contrast to when he first took to social media about “the famous guy” in his block.

In a Facebook post last June, Syafiq shared how 71-year-old Woo had been tormenting his neighbours since 2017 – blasting music late at night and appearing nude outside his doorstep.

“The police visited [Woo] so many times. There isn’t much they can do either,” the visibly frustrated Syafiq told AsiaOne then, adding that the residents in his block had “exhausted all avenues” to resolve the dispute.

But help is on the way for other Singaporeans with similar stories of “neighbours from hell”.

Mediator: Mediation not about ‘saving face’ 

Disputing neighbours in some cases, such as those involving noise, will be required to attend mandatory mediation sessions, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong told Parliament on Monday (March 6).

This enhancement to the Community Dispute Management Framework will actively facilitate the resolution of disputes at an early stage to preserve relations between neighbours, Tong said. 

In an interview with AsiaOne, mediator Katherine Yap said that making mediation mandatory will give both parties – in this case feuding neighbours – a chance to “at least” find an amicable solution to their issues.

The 50-year-old, who has mediated 34 cases since volunteering at the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) in 2014, has a success rate of 91 per cent. 

Adding that it’s not just about the “high percentage”, Yap said: “It’s very much about what the parties take away [from the mediation sessions], that they are both happy with an amicable solution.”

Issues related to noise ranks the highest in neighbour disputes that are seen in the CMC, Yap said, adding that her role is like a “village chief” where she tries to facilitate a discussion between two opposing parties.

The veteran mediator said: “I can see from their body language… If they are seated [on] opposite [sides] without wanting to see each other’s faces, I have to tell them ‘I’m here to help you, and we are not here to push the problem away’.

“Sometimes I can be challenged [by one party] on which side I am on. So I have to put [my] foot down and tell them to respect the mediation process. Thankfully, I don’t have that many disputants.”


But there are occasions where mediation sessions can end up with angry neighbours walking away without a resolution.

They might be unwilling to compromise due to “underlying reasons” that are deep-seated or acrimonious, Yap shared.

“Sometimes, [disputants feel] it’s all about ‘my face’ and ‘I have to win this’,” she said. “If they have a closed mindset about mediation, then I have to let them know that it’s not the way it should be.”

Mandatory mediation ‘a good step’

For Syafiq, making mediation mandatory “feels like a good step” in efforts to resolve disputes between neighbours.

While he’s unsure if Woo was ever advised to attend such sessions with a neutral third party, Syafiq pointed out the obstacles faced in resolving neighbour disputes.

He said: “In the past, the CMC couldn’t do anything if [one party] didn’t show up for mediation.

“To be honest, my [case] was [not the worst]. I feel bad for others with sickos as neighbours… We deserve every form of protection.”

A loophole in the system?

Desperate to settle a long-standing dispute with her neighbour, Alicia* attended three mediation sessions at the CMC in 2012.

She has even written a letter to various agencies and authorities appealing for help – from the police, HDB, her Member of Parliament Darryl David, as well as to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

But 11 years on, the 29-year-old has lost hope that her next-door neighbour will cease his “never-ending reign of terror” against the residents of a Hougang HDB block.

A series of TikTok videos shared by Alicia as early as April 2021 showed loud banging sounds from outside her unit late at night every day.

Other past antics by her neighbour included damaging her plants at the parapet and spitting on her doorstep. 

The only period of silence? When the man goes to work during the day, the frustrated Hougang resident told AsiaOne last Saturday (March 4), adding that the “damage was already done” by then.

Alicia said: “The [lack] of sleep is the worst. My [65-year-old] dad just had a heart bypass, but the [neighbour] is banging non-stop. It’s hard for him to rest.”


Neighbour banging NON STOP. AT NIGHT. Captured by @我是kayaroti this banging neigbour works at RSAF, and is used(???) to be an akido coach…

♬ original sound – Snippetsofmylife – Snippetsofmylife

While mediation will be made mandatory for noise-related disputes, Alicia shared that she has “lost faith in the system” due to “unexpected loopholes”.

Describing how her neighbour always turns up for mediation, she said: “But he doesn’t abide by the [terms of the settlement]. He still crosses paths with me by taking the [same] lift and there’s nothing CMC can do.

“For mediation to work, the neighbours must admit to their wrongdoing, but who will do so? The entire process is complicated and draining.”

‘More teeth’ to mediation settlement agreements: Edwin Tong

Speaking during the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s Committee of Supply debate on Monday, Tong shared there are plans that will give mediation settlement agreements more teeth and standing, to encourage greater compliance with mediated outcomes. 

The government will also look at allowing dedicated personnel to leverage stronger laws and help neighbours resolve issues, he added.

This includes directing residents to stop the actions that are causing the nuisance.

“We will also explore consequences for recalcitrant offenders who fail to stop the actions as required,” Tong said.

Pseudonym was used in the article to protect the identity of the individual.

No part of this story can be reproduced without permission from AsiaOne.


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