Jul 20, 2016

The Payment Plan


John, a 72-year-old landlord, leased one of his apartments to Eric for several years. Eric was a good tenant who historically paid his rent on time. For some reason, however, Eric stopped paying rent in February of this year. There was no rental payment in March either, and John decided to pay Eric a visit. John visited Eric at the apartment, and was frustrated and angered when he had to repeatedly bang on the door and wait for Eric to answer. When Eric finally came to the door, Eric simply said he didn’t have the rent and turned John away. Even more infuriated, and feeling disrespected, John eventually served Eric with a five-day eviction notice and filed a suit in court seeking what was now three months of unpaid rent as well as court costs—an amount totaling $2,479.

Upon being served with the court summons, Eric reached out to John’s son, John Jr., to attempt to negotiate a payment plan so that he could pay off the money he owed to John. John Jr. denied Eric’s request, and John and Eric appeared in court. The judge referred their case to CCR mediators to try and work out an agreement.

When John and Eric entered the mediation room, John made his frustration with Eric very apparent, noting that Eric had been irresponsible and uncooperative. He stated that he wanted “every penny owed” at that moment – he was unwilling to consider a payment plan. He also wanted Eric to move out as soon as possible. Eric admitted that he owed the $2,100 in back rent, and stated that he was appearing in court and was willing to mediate because he respected John. He also apologized for a breakdown in communication. Over the course of the mediation, Eric opened up and explained that in January, he was in a bad car accident and wound up owing a lot of money.   He further explained how he had fallen behind in several other payment areas, not just his rent, and was asked to help his grandmother pay part of her rent. To better the situation, Eric took on a second job and was working 18 hour days. He had recently started this job on the day John visited his apartment, and explained how he was sleeping when John came to the door. Eric showed John that he was a private and proud person, but one who was willing to take responsibility for his actions and who wanted to work out a payment plan.

Still somewhat frustrated, John stated that he wished Eric would have called him instead of texting John Jr. Upon hearing the new information about why Eric was unable to pay the rent and the actions he was taking to make good on his obligations, John immediately agreed to a payment plan for Eric and allowed him to stay in the unit for the rest of the month. With help from one of CCR’s mediators, Eric and John worked out a sustainable and realistic payment plan ($150 every two weeks) and practical move-out date. They also discussed what would happen if Eric was unable to pay or fell behind on payments.

At the end of the mediation, John shook Eric’s hand and wished him luck. Eric thanked him and said that he appreciated the low stress environment created in mediation and enjoyed the real communication between the two parties.

By focusing on the breakdown of communication between a landlord and tenant, CCR was able to help maintain a relationship and get both parties what they needed.

May 10, 2016

Not About the Liquor

Javon was 16 when his dad died. That was seven months ago; since then, he had been regularly stealing from individuals and businesses in his neighborhood. 

Javon had lived with his dad up until his death, but now he was back with his mom who would come and go without saying where she was for days at a time. She was a known drug user and Javon was essentially on his own. 

He got arrested for stealing liquor from the corner store by his aunt’s house earlier in the winter. Javon’s probation officer thought it would be helpful for him to go through mediation, so the officer referred him to CCR. Representatives from the store declined to come to the mediation; however, CCR was still able to provide a Family Mediation to Javon, his mom, Latisha, and his aunt, Rose. 

Rose was instrumental in getting both Javon and Latisha to the mediation. Once they were there, the mediator began asking some questions giving all three a chance to explain how this incident had affected their family. 

Javon explained how his dad had taught him right from wrong, but now that he was on his own, he had to take care of himself as best as he could. Since his mom wasn't around much, he figured he could do whatever he wanted or needed to do. Stealing from the liquor store was one way to make extra money for stuff he needed because he could sell it to other kids at school. 

Latisha mentioned that she tried to keep an eye on Javon, but since they hadn't lived together for years, he resisted her attempts to stay informed on what he was doing and keep him out of trouble. She wanted more say-so in his coming and goings as well as an improvement in the respect he gave her. 

Rose explained how her brother's death had left a void in the family and that he had been a strong link holding things together. She had tried to pick up this role since his death, but it was difficult with her own children and job needing much of her time. 

Throughout all of this, the mediator was able to help the parties identify the things that were most important for them and discuss some options for pursuing those interests. 

For Javon, it was important to have some autonomy to make his own decisions and prove that he could stand on his own. Even still, he was willing to have more communication with his mother about what was going on for him, and he wanted support from her, but he didn't think it was fair for her to come and go on a whim, yet still demand authority over his actions. He ultimately wanted to go to college and get a job working with computers, but he also wasn't sure how to make that happen.

For Latisha, it was important to have her authority as a mother respected, but she recognized that she wasn't always around and Javon was nearing that stage of early adulthood where he was making a lot of decisions for himself.

Rose's interest was simply to improve the dynamics of the family since her brother's death and make sure to keep Javon out of trouble so he didn't end up going down a path that so many of his contemporaries did with crime, drugs, jail or death.

By highlighting all of these interests for them and helping them think through alternatives and potential pitfalls of the kind of behavior that led them to this conversation, the mediator was able to assist them in writing up an agreement about what to do to improve things. 

Javon agreed to a typical curfew of 9:30 p.m., with the option of calling his mom to let her know if he wanted to stay out until 10:30 p.m. Latisha agreed to help Javon investigate a couple of different City Colleges and take him to the one he chose to enroll in classes when the time came. Rose agreed to be a back up support in case Javon couldn't reach Latisha, and that she would check in with both of them every couple of weeks to see how things were going.

When the mediation was finished, they all agreed that it had been helpful to talk out some of these issues which they had never sat down to discuss since the father's death. They were all certain that the thieving wasn't productive or helpful for Javon, and now they had some supports in place to help him make better decisions and pursue his goals. 

Apr 20, 2016

The Doorbell

Dave and Wes ended up in mediation with the Center for Conflict Resolution when Wes filed an eviction case against Dave. Before trial, the parties were given an opportunity to meet with the mediator, where they told their respective stories.

Fifteen years ago Wes purchased a small apartment building with 4 units Southwest of Chicago. He thought the investment was particularly wise because the rent provided him with enough income to cover the mortgage and expenses. A few years after he purchased the building, Wes’s parents retired and they took over the task of managing it as a sort of hobby. In return, Wes gave them a small monthly stipend which they used for travel and out-of-the-ordinary expenses.

Dave had been renting an apartment in Wes’s building for the past 8 years. He worked from home and loved the apartment and the neighborhood. He also had an exceptional relationship with Wes’s parents, who he thought took great care of the building and the tenants. Over the past 6 months, Dave noticed that he hadn’t seen Wes’s parents, the Landlords, as he thought of them, very much and one day he received a notice taped to his door that they would no longer be collecting rent in person, but that Dave should mail it to an address he had never heard of before.

Dave was concerned about sending his checks to an unknown address, so he phoned the Landlords, left a message, and a few days later Wes called him back. Wes had explained that his parents did not own the building, that it was his and that they were in deteriorating health and were no longer helping with the care of the building. Dave agreed to send the checks for rent to Wes, but requested that Wes make a few outstanding repairs to his apartment. Primarily, Dave wanted his doorbell fixed.

Wes never repaired the doorbell. Dave never sent his rent check. Two months later the men were sitting in mediation.

After hearing the men’s stories, the mediator began to inquire about what was important to both men. She learned that Dave really needed to have a functioning doorbell - he worked from home and needed to receive deliveries, but had been missing packages because there was no way for the delivery person to leave them. Furthermore, Dave felt disrespected by Wes’s unwillingness to make the repair. He also learned that Wes was feeling overburdened with the work of managing the building and that his parents’ failing health was distracting for him. Although he’d owned the building for many years, Wes had not been that involved and the tenants had not been receptive to his sudden appearance and apparent reluctance to make repairs. Additionally, the doorbell repair was a costly project that would require installation of a new intercom system and Wes was not able to make that investment in the building.

In the end, Wes agreed to research alternative doorbells which would provide Dave with the access to deliveries that he needed. Dave agreed to pay the past due rent and Wes forgave any outstanding late fees. Both parties agreed that the circumstance had been better when Wes’s parents were managing the building, but recognized that they would need to work with each other moving forward. The mediation gave them the opportunity to restart their relationship as landlord and tenant and opened communication between them.

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