Mediation is the key


POSTED: Saturday, October 31, 2009

Question: I am a retired senior citizen living in a quiet residential neighborhood. I enjoy passing time playing piano in the afternoons. I am respectful of my neighbors and do not play after 6 p.m. Occasionally I give lessons to neighborhood children, but these never go beyond 5:30 p.m. In the past my neighbor has complained about noise, and I responded by closing my windows while playing. Apparently that did not work as now my neighbor is threatening to file a complaint with the city if I continue to play my piano. Am I allowed to play my piano in my own home during the afternoon? I cannot afford a lawyer and do not want to have to spend money to protect myself from my neighbor's complaint. The piano is not electric and has no amplification. It is not especially loud, but even so, I do not even use the piano pedals so as to keep the sound low. This neighbor has me so upset I have stopped playing and miss the enjoyment of my music. Can you let me know if I am breaking any laws? Can my neighbor make a complaint so I need a lawyer?

Answer: Just playing a piano during the daytime as you describe it would not appear to constitute unreasonable noise (determined by such factors as the time of day and volume).

But it's not possible to give an answer without more information, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

Tell your neighbor to call police, recommends HPD spokesman Maj. Clayton Kau.

That way, the officer who responds can speak to both of you and possibly assist in resolving the problem, he said.

The officer also can check to see whether the noise from your piano playing is either acceptable or too loud, Kau said.

If you prefer not to get police involved, and if your neighbor is willing, a good alternative is to take the dispute to the Mediation Center of the Pacific.

“;It sounds like an issue appropriate for mediation,”; said Tracey Wiltgen, executive director of the nonprofit organization.

“;We provide mediation services for a broad variety ... of issues,”; she said. “;Disputes between neighbors is one of them.”;

In fact, the Mediation Center started out as the Neighborhood Justice Center, focusing on neighborhood disputes, many of them involving noise.

Although not every dispute is resolved, “;A large percentage of people are able to reach agreement,”; Wiltgen said.

But participants need to be willing “;to understand where the other person is coming from,”; then “;to come up with solutions that everybody can live with,”; she said.

Otherwise, if people come in with the idea that there's only one possible outcome, such as you not playing the piano at all, it would be difficult to reach a resolution acceptable to both sides.

If you think mediation would work, contact the Mediation Center — call 521-6767 or go online at http://www.mediatehawaii.org for information.

You'll be asked to provide your neighbor's name and telephone number or address. Someone from the center would then contact your neighbor to see whether he is willing to participate in mediation, explaining the process.

Participation is strictly voluntary.

Mediation is confidential, Wiltgen said, and the parties involved are “;not required to reach an agreement. It's an opportunity to sit down and talk in a safe, private setting with impartial people who are the mediators, to be able to share their view of the situation, to listen to the other person's view, then to brainstorm ideas that could possibly work for both of them.”;

If, at any time, either side does not feel comfortable or feel it's not productive, they have a right to close it down.

Even if the two sides aren't able to reach a written agreement, “;if it can help them start talking or at least start thinking of the issue, oftentimes, later on, they'll be able to reach an agreement,”; Wiltgen said. “;At least it opens the door for communication.”;

Most cases involve just one three-hour session, held at the Mediation Center's offices in the Dole Cannery Office Building in Iwilei.

Cost is assessed to both parties on a sliding scale based on household income, ranging from no cost to $175. Most clientele pay $50.