A case for mediation: Love thy neighbor, or not

Published 11 February 2019 by Gillan & Veldhuizen Law Firm

There inevitably comes a time when we have a dispute of some kind with our neighbours, be it the yapping dog, the loud music, the tree that sheds copious amounts of leaves or a obstructs your view, the cat who poops in your garden, the incessant fighting, the roar of the lawnmower on an early Sunday morning, a dripping tap – you name it – but how you choose to handle it can make all the difference in relationships with your neighbours.

An alarming number of both legal and domestic conflicts are launched by warring neighbours in circumstances where the appointment of a trained mediator could have resolved the differences in a myriad of ways.  The effect of the win/lose nature of litigation is that while one party may be restrained from a certain behaviour or forced to take certain remedial action, it will do little to foster good neighbourly relations.

PJ Veldhuizen, Managing Director of Gillan & Veldhuizen, says, “The purpose of a mediation is not to continue the animosity between the parties but to rather find common ground, temper emotions, ease the tension.” It also has the added benefit of creating an environment where further disputes are unlikely to occur, where dialogue can take that place. 

Nothing is more energy-sapping than coming home to what you believe is your sanctuary - to have an ongoing battle with a neighbour.   It’s obviously not human nature to always agree and in circumstances where parties for one reason or another are unable to resolve the differences between them, enlisting the help of a mediator who will outline all your options would be a wise route to take.    

You as the neighbour/complainant need to consider what the appropriate strategy is – is it legal action or mediation? 

In the case of mediation –

  • Get your neighbour to agree to the concept of mediation.
  • Make an appointment with an accredited mediator that you have both decided upon (DISAC / Conflict Dynamics or equivalent).
  • Appointed mediator prepares a mediation agreement setting out what he/she is required to mediate and that the process is without prejudice and confidential, etc.
  • You will agree to a process – the mediator will meet with you and call for information and then sit with you and work out options for a settlement.
  • Mediation costs are typically split pro-rata according to the means of the parties and this should be dealt with in the mediation agreement.

One of the big things about mediation is that it doesn’t just focus on what the law says – it deals with the equities as well – deciding on what is best at the time, based on merit and circumstances.

There does appear to be a move amongst many lawyers to embrace mediation and its advantages but there are still a few that will push to go to court.  Veldhuizen adds, “You can’t force people into mediation  the courts encourage mediation before pursuing litigation.” 

Few people appreciate that mediation is an answer – a process that will not only salvage good neighbourly relations but will save a lot of time and money…..and the possibility of assault charges/jail time for throwing that punch/coffee cup in the heat of the moment!