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Flat Chat

Loathe Thy Neighbour

The hardest adjustment most people have to make when they move into apartments is simply getting along with neighbours all around them.

It is usually a simple issue of tolerance and consideration, or lack thereof. Ironically, for many people the false assumption that they can't do anything about their neighbours' behaviour only exacerbates any problems that might arise.

But there is a lot you can do to resolve disputes before resorting to the Mutually Assured Destruction of legal action.

First of all, a quiet word or a politely written note may be the first indication to your neighbour that there is a problem. Think about it - you neighbour doesn't know how loud their stereo or TV is in your apartment. How could they?

If the neighbour is breaking the by-laws of your building, your next port of call should be the Executive Committee of your Owners Corporation and/or the building manager, if you have one. And if that neighbour is a tenant, you should certainly let the apartment owner or agent know what the problem is. Bad behaviour can often be an indication that their property is not being properly looked after.

Failing official steps within the building, the Community Justice Centre in NSW offers a free mediation service and will try to get parties in a dispute to agree amicably. When we were researching our book Apartment Living (ABC Books), we were told that, ironically, the CJC have their best results in cases where both parties come to the table 100 percent certain that they are right. Apparently, both sides soon realise that they can't possibly be faultless and that's enough to start a dialogue.

If voluntary mediation fails your next call should be to the Office of Fair Trading. They also provide a mediation service and will try to get warring parties to agree. But, unlike the CJC, they can make legally binding rulings. This service only costs $58 but you should bear in mind that their verdict is binding on you too.

If noise is the problem, and the various conciliation services have failed to get the desired result, you can also make a complaint to a magistrate's court via a Justice of the Peace or directly to police. An on-the-spot fine can be imposed or a Noise Abatement Order can be issued, once it's established that offensive noise exists or is likely to recur.

So, even when direct communication has failed, you still have plenty of options.

Jimmy's Mailbox

I've just moved into a new apartment but have fallen out with the friend who was going to rent a room from me and I can't afford the mortgage on my own. What's the best way to choose a good room mate? - Sharon, Coogee
First of all, be absolutely honest with yourself and your prospective roomies about what you expect, both in their behaviour and yours. If you are totally easy going, tell them that you expect them to be too. If you need structure and a well-organised home life, make that clear. But there should always be one over-riding rule: It's your home and therefore a democracy where you have the casting vote. If they don't run a mile, you could be on to a good thing. And get a friend (one that you haven't fallen out with) to sit in on the interviews. They'll probably know better than you do who you'll get along with.

First published SMH September 2004

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