Maybe they play their music too loud, maybe their dog poops on your lawn, but everyone has had a neighbour they just can’t stand.
Before disputes boil over into an all out war, give mediation a try says a new Ottawa group.
“Neighbourhood conflicts can escalate, and escalate quickly,” said Brian Strom, the organizer of Community Mediation Ottawa launching Thursday. “Say one neighbour says another plays music too loudly. They could call bylaw enforcement, but that neighbour could get ticked off. Misunderstandings happen and there can be retaliation. There is an alternative before a bag of dog poo is on fire on your doorstep.”
To avoid escalating conflicts without fighting, going to court or giving up and moving, community mediators can help both sides find common ground. “We’re not there to decide who is right and wrong,” said Meredith St. Denis, a volunteer mediator with the group. “When it can be done in a non-accusatory way, it helps to have a different kind of discussion.”
In a recent case, the group dealt with neighbours who argued another’s indoor smoking stunk up their units. “There were health issues involved that made the second-hand smoke acute,” said St. Denis. “When it was all laid out, there was a solution built around minimizing that exposure. The neighbour was able to talk and hear out the impact they were having.”
Calling a lawyer, the police or bylaw officers to issue a notice doesn’t work in many situations, Strom said. “Mediation helps build people’s capacity for resolution. There’s a learning that happens.”
The service is free and operated by the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. Even students who want to resolve conflicts with their roommates are welcome to take advantage of the service, he said.
Still, both sides need to agree to sit down with mediators before any progress can be made. “Sometimes the intensity of a good relationship that existed is proportional to a bad one that develops with the same neighbour,” said Strom.
“It’s good to have this as a first resort before things build. When people come earlier they have a better chance of reaching a resolution.”
Community Mediation Ottawa holds an open house launch Thursday, Oct. 18, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 464 Metcalfe St.