Written by attorney Elliot S Stomel


Having a problem with your next door neighbor? Is he always walking his dog on your lawn and not picking up the mess? Does he play his stereo too loud on his back deck? Or do those spotlights he recently installed on the side of his house shine right into your bedroom at night? And now, all his annoying habits have pushed you past your boiling point causing you to become involved in an ugly confrontation. Even worse,he now has the upper hand because he filed criminal charges against you because you lost your temper! Where do you go from here?

In New Jersey, almost every municipality has what are known as Community Disputes Resolution Committees (CDRC). This is a form of mediation consisting of a panel of township citizens specially trained in mediation techniques. The parties appear before the Committee, which then works with the group to develop an equitable solution.

How do cases get scheduled before CDCR? You cannot simply call the local police department and request that your problem be scheduled for CDRC. A complaint must be filed in Municipal Court for referral to CDRC by the judge.

What takes place at CDRC? At the mediation, the panel (which typically consists of 2 or 3 trained mediators) listens to both sides. The parties get an opportunity to get their complaints off their chests. Sometimes, the panel will ask one side or the other to step out of the room so that they can discuss some sticking points with the other party. If an agreement is ultimately reached, a consent form is signed by all parties and the Committee members, and the paperwork is given to the Court. If all parties agree to a resolution, the case is dismissed by the Court.

What is no agreement is reached? If no resolution is agreed upon, the case will be referred back to the Court where it will be heard by the judge.

What is the advantage of CDRC? No one ever "wins" in a neighborhood dispute. Both sides eventually lose. If the case must go to Court and the defendant is found "guilty", he is usually so resentful that he finds new "legal" ways to annoy his neighbor. Conversely, if he is found "not guilty", he usually takes advantage of the winning verdict and finds himself upsetting the complaining neighbor even more than before by continuing the same annoying behavior. It is always better to try to resolve issues between neighbors without the court having to make the decision.

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