Mar 5, 2021

Communicating Despite COVID

The participants in this mediation were Ann and Mathias. Ann had acted as a live-in caretaker for Mathias’s mother, Mama Claire, in exchange for reduced rent in Mama Claire’s home from early 2017 until her death in January 2020. After Mama Claire’s death, Mathias expected Ann to move out of the house, but she did not and the two ended up in a series of arguments that resulted in Mathias contacting CCR to schedule a mediation. Due to the eviction moratorium, he was unable to file a case in court.

During the mediation, the mediator learned that Ann and Mathias first met Mother’s Day of 2017 and initially, they liked one another. They both wanted the best for Mama Claire and thought that Ann living with her in exchange for rent was a great solution. However, Mathias later came to believe that Ann was a poor caretaker and would leave for weeks at a time. In response to the charges of poor caretaking, Ann stated that she did not want to give Mama Claire her prescription injections and left that to the home health care nurse that visited the house, but that otherwise she cared for all of Mama Claire’s needs. She said that Mama Claire had severe memory problems and would forget that she had seen Ann and would ask her where she had been for the last few weeks when she had seen Ann the day before. She felt that her contributions as a caretaker were undervalued. She was hurt by Mathias’ accusations and felt that Mathias was lying about his conversations with Mama Claire regarding her wishes for the house after her death. A true accounting of the events was important to both parties, even though it was impossible to determine what had really occurred.

The mediator worked with the parties to help reframe their conversation. Without Mama Claire available to confirm or deny their stories, there was no way to determine if anyone was misrepresenting what happened. The mediator helped the parties shift to a conversation of what was important to both of them and asked questions to help them both determine if there were any options available to them in mediation that would resolve the disagreement.

Ann initially stated that she had been paying rent but then later in the mediation admitted she had not paid rent for the last year. She said she had consulted a legal aid attorney who told her that because the deed was not in Mathias’s name and there was no written lease agreement, she was not obligated to pay him any rent. Ann said she tried to move out in early 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, but with the shelter-in-place order she had nowhere else to go.

Mathias stated that he cared deeply for his mother. Despite living seventy miles away, he visited her regularly. While he had concerns near the end of his mother’s life, he did agree that Ann had been a good caretaker for most of the time she lived in the home.

Mathias was willing to agree that Ann would move out when the eviction moratorium was lifted. Ann considered this calmly and thoughtfully but then stated that she was reluctant to move out because she said she was struggling to find alternate housing during the pandemic. The mediator helped the parties talk about the difference between the moratorium ending and the pandemic ending. The parties soon realized that those were difficult ideas to define because there were so many unknown factors. They agreed that Ann would stay in the house for at least two more months, but that she would begin to pay rent to Mathias. The mediator helped them draft an agreement and let them know that they were welcome to return for a follow up mediation session at any time.

Jan 12, 2021

Coming Home

Denise had been having a lot of conflict with her mom. Her mother, Sharon, had been hoping the two of them would be able to work things out on their own, but things had continued to get worse between them and eventually Denise went to live with her aunt. After staying with her aunt for a few months, Denise got in some trouble. She ended up getting arrested and her aunt told her she could no longer stay with her. After that, Denise went to live with her Dad, but he didn’t have the space for Denise to stay comfortably full-time. Denise was working with a social worker who decided to refer Denise and her mother to mediation with CCR.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Denise and Sharon participated in mediation via Zoom. The mediator began the mediation by checking in with each of them privately to discuss the mediation and see if they had any concerns. Sharon told the mediator she was really angry about Denise’s behavior and was not happy to be at the mediation. She said she felt like she didn’t know what else to do and that if Denise continued to misbehave she would have to ask her to move out permanently. Denise told the mediator she was optimistic about having a conversation with her mother, that the two of them had not really had a conversation in months that didn’t result in yelling, and that she was nervous she might need a break when her mom got angry. The mediator and Denise made a plan that if Sharon was yelling and Denise felt overwhelmed, she could ask for a time out and the mediator would stop the mediation.

Denise was right to be concerned about Sharon’s anger. Early in the mediation the mediator found it very difficult to help the two women speak with one another. Sharon was so upset that she could not contain herself and often spoke over Denise, raising her voice. This would cause Denise to raise her voice and repeatedly the mediator found them in a screaming match. The mediator realized the parties would need to make a better plan for how to communicate in order to have a positive experience in mediation.

The mediator brought each party into another private meeting and talked to them about how they were engaging one another. In the meeting with Sharon, the mediator gave Sharon the opportunity to express the anger she was feeling. The mediator listened while Sharon got louder and angrier, her voice trembling as she recounted all her efforts to support Denise. Once she finished, the mediator summarized everything back and checked in with her to see how she felt about moving forward. Sharon said she felt much calmer after her outburst and wanted to continue the conversation. When the mediator met privately with Denise she learned that Denise was really apologetic about her previous behavior and that she wanted to come home and live with her mother. The mediator was surprised to hear this, as it had not been said when the parties were together. The mediator spent time with Denise making a plan for how she would ask her mother if she could come home. Then the mediator brought the two of them back together.

It wasn’t an easy conversation, but both parties were calmer and more focused and, with the mediator’s help, they were able to keep talking. Denise asked to come live with her mom again and the two of them agreed on a set of expectations for living together. The agreement included obligations for both Sharon and Denise and the two left the mediation in good spirits, ready to share a home again. 

Nov 9, 2020

Avoiding Eviction in the Time of COVID-19

Jerome bought a two-flat a few years ago and moved in to the upstairs unit and rented the first floor apartment to Carl. Carl worked the night shift at a machining plant, so he was rarely awake during the day. Since the men kept very different hours, they rarely interacted and this created a fair amount of conflict. Jerome and Carl ended up in Eviction Court where the judge sent them to mediation.

To begin, the mediator asked each man to explain what had happened from his perspective. Jerome, as the initiator of the case, began by explaining how there had been numerous small damages to the property in Carl’s unit in addition to personal items of Carl’s that were left around the property, creating an eye-sore. Carl countered by describing how, whenever he would approach Jerome about fixing something, Jerome would not follow through in a timely fashion, if at all.

Both men agreed that this situation had been going on far too long and needed to come to an end. Jerome was seeking a certain move-out date from Carl, but Carl was unwilling to provide that, suggesting that during the pandemic and with his work schedule, it was going to be very difficult to find a new place to live.

The mediator succinctly summarized the position of each man, then pivoted from that to inquire about the underlying interests that were driving their behaviors. Jerome cared a great deal about his new property and wanted to maintain its appearance and quality. He had tried to contact Carl many times about keeping things neat and tidy, but often Carl was unavailable or unresponsive. At other times, Carl would say that he was going to fix or clean something up, but then wouldn’t do it.

For his part, Carl indicated that since he was usually trying to sleep during the day, the noise that came from Jerome’s unit often kept him up and made him too tired to clean or do other small projects around the unit during his free time. When something would break, he would sometimes message Jerome about it, but because their schedules didn’t align, they often missed opportunities to discuss solutions and would go weeks or months with nothing being done.

The mediator highlighted that a shared value they were both expressing was timely communication and follow through on what was promised. Both men agreed. The mediator also asked about how their relationship had been with regard to payment of rent. Jerome was quick to point out that Carl was great at paying rent on time and that he really appreciated that. He indicated that one concern he had was that if Carl moved out, he might not find someone as prompt in that regard or someone who was as financially secure during the pandemic.

Consequently, the mediator inquired if they could sort out their communication and follow through issues, did they believe they could fix things well enough to keep the relationship going? Both men thought they could. Through brainstorming ideas and some reality testing by the mediator, they were able to come up with a solution whereby they would set up a weekly phone call to discuss any issues that needed attention. If there were any, both men agreed to make a plan about how to start those projects that weekend and clarify when the project would be completed. Jerome also agreed to purchase some runner carpets for his hallways, in order to dampen the noise from foot traffic and help Carl get better sleep.

With both men understanding better what was important to the other, they were satisfied that they could continue to remain landlord and tenant for the foreseeable future and were able to dismiss the pending eviction.

 
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