Mar 13, 2020

Comfort and Respect

Reginald and his wife Loretta were landlords of a 3-flat building in Hyde Park. Their tenant, Jessica, and her two daughters had been residing in a unit on the top floor of the building. Reginald and Loretta lived on the first floor.

For a little over two years, there were no problems with Jessica paying her rent on time and the landlords were happy to have a long-term tenant.

At some point, Jessica started noticing rodents in her unit and notified Reginald of the situation. After a few weeks passed with no action taken, Jessica took matters into her own hands. She paid for an exterminator to come to the building to address the rodent issue. When Reginald found out about this gesture, he offered to pay Jessica back. Jessica refused as she considered the matter over. Reginald was grateful that his tenant cared about the building so much so that she would do something so generous.

A few weeks later, Jessica’s father asked her to provide a temporary home for his dog. Jessica asked Loretta if it would be acceptable to her and Reginald to have a dog for a short period of time. Loretta mentioned that it wasn't allowed by the terms of the lease, but as long as it was for a short time, it would be ok.  

Jessica then purchased a puppy for her children without telling Reginald and Loretta, which meant there were now two dogs living in the unit. The puppy was not trained and left piles of feces in the hall and on the back porch. When the landlords started receiving complaints from the other residents, they addressed the dog issue with Jessica. She agreed to have the carpets professionally cleaned and again paid for the carpet cleaning service.

Loretta continued to confront Jessica about the dogs. The relationship between them began to erode. Jessica noticed a leak in the kitchen and asked Reginald to have it repaired. When it was not repaired, Jessica stopped paying rent. Three months passed with no rent, so the landlords took Jessica to court, asking for an eviction and back rent. They cited that she had dogs that were not permissible under the terms of the lease. Jessica mentioned that she wasn't paying rent because of the rodents and the repairs not being completed violating the terms of the lease.

The case was referred to mediation with Center for Conflict Resolution. To learn a little about the relationship between the parties, the mediator asked Jessica how she decided to live in the unit. Jessica said she was referred to Reginald and Loretta through a mutual friend they knew from church. Loretta began insulting Jessica, saying "She needs to pray a lot harder because she has the devil in her!" Jessica said she felt disrespected, and that this was one of the reasons why she has not been paying rent.

Loretta kept trying to show the mediator evidence that she brought to court to show the judge. The mediator said, "I can tell you are passionate about showing me this evidence, why do you feel so strongly that you need to show this to me?" Loretta replied, "Because I want you to see what it has been like for us to wake up and come get our paper in the morning and be greeted by dog feces in the hallway." At that point, the mediator asked her to explain what that was like for her. She said the smell was terrible and that she was no longer comfortable living in her building anymore. The mediator said, "so you need to be comfortable living in your building." The mediator asked Reginald and Loretta how they felt when Jessica paid for the exterminator. Reginald said, "I think she is a good mom, works hard, and has taken pride in our building, and I am appreciative of that." The mediator asked Jessica how she felt hearing those words. She replied, "Although Reginald didn't come to fix things as quickly as he said, he always respected me." The mediator said, "so you need to be respected."

With the mediator's help, they were able to understand more clearly each of their needs and interests. The mediator was then able to facilitate a conversation that ended with the tenant agreeing to move out by the end of the month. This amount of time would allow the landlord to do the necessary repairs to have the apartment rented again. The landlord agreed only to collect one month of the three months' rent owed as long as she moved out at the end of the month.

They ended up shaking hands at the end of the meeting, able to put things in the past and leave without having to return to court.

Jan 9, 2020

Family Coming Together to Improve Communication

Anthony was arrested during the Puerto Rican Pride Festival in early June, just a little before his seventeenth birthday. He and his two sisters had taken their father’s car without permission. Anthony’s older sister, Angela, had a license. But Anthony really liked to drive, and she let him that day, even though he didn’t have a license.

Angela had been waving a flag out the window, enjoying the day along with their fellow community members. When the officer pulled them over, the younger sister, Aracelis, got into a verbal altercation with the officer, claiming that he had stopped them because they were “young Latinos making too much noise.”

The police ended up charging both Anthony and Angela as minors with possession of a stolen vehicle and driving without a license. Since the car belonged to their father and he wasn’t pressing charges, the matter ended up with a social worker partnering with the Chicago Police Department. The social worker referred the family to CCR after their interview, citing a lack of communication and oversight between the children and parents.

During the mediation, the mediator asked about how things were at home before the arrest. The mother, Celia, expressed that what the social worker said was true, especially between herself and Anthony. Most of their communication was by texting or having other family members pass messages.

As a result of working two jobs, raising four teenage children, and caring for her mom who had Parkinson’s, Celia didn’t have much energy left over to fight battles or watch over her kids. She relied on Anthony to be a leader and make good decisions. She said that for the most part, he was a good kid, but that he often ended up getting influenced by other kids and making poor choices.

When asked how he felt about this, Anthony told the mediator that he felt isolated and unsupported. He hadn’t been going to school for the last few months because he had been hit by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting incident that one of his friends was involved in. He was still wearing a cast and he said that while he had been recovering, all his mom did was ask him to clean the house, get his younger siblings off to school, and run errands.

The mediator then checked in with Angela to get her perspective. She said that she was really frustrated that no one in their family seemed to talk much. She first blamed it on the fact that they were all busy and tired, but with some probing by the mediator, ended up talking about how no one ever expressed their affection for each other or asked to see how things were going.

Anthony and Celia agreed, and Celia said that’s just how she had been raised. She also disclosed that her relationship with their dad had suffered because of this pattern and that even though they were still married, things weren’t good between the two of them either.

Anthony expressed that he was hurt and concerned by this. When the mediator asked what each of their goals were for the future, Anthony talked about wanting to be a truck driver but that he was scared about how these kinds of incidents would affect his future. Celia echoed this fear right away, saying that she just wanted him to finish school and get this arrest expunged from his record.

At this point, the mediator gently asked each of them what they thought they could do to change any of this. Celia said that the past year had made her realize how much her family needs her to be present emotionally. She said that she would commit to asking each of her kids how they were doing at least once a week. Anthony said that he knew how much his mom needed support too, and promised that he would make better choices with who he chose to hang around.

They also agreed that Celia would take him to do his driving test so he could get his license, and Anthony would start looking for a part time job so he could earn money to pay for truck driving school.

In ending the session, the mediator asked if there was anything else they wanted to say. Anthony looked at his mom and said, “I love you. I’m proud of how much you do to keep our family together, even though you can’t always be a part of things day-to-day.”

Celia began to cry and said how proud she was of him too. And all the kids. All three of them hugged and said they loved each other. Then, through tears, they all started laughing about how this kind of thing had never happened before. They joked about how it felt a little awkward, but they liked it and hoped they could do it more in the future. Through mediation, Anthony, Angela and Celia were able, for the first time, to talk openly and plan for a future with improved communication and more fulfilling relationships.

Dec 16, 2019

Friends Avoiding an Eviction

Javon and Mario came to mediation with the Center for Conflict Resolution after Javon filed an eviction case against Mario in court. The judge set a trial date for them, but the parties requested an opportunity to meet with a mediator first.

In mediation, Javon explained that he was at the end of his rope. He had rented an apartment to Mario, his wife, and their four children for the last three years. Over that period of time, Javon and Mario had become friends. Mario had even invited Javon’s family to a birthday party for his daughter last year. Unfortunately, over the past few months, things began to change.

Mario’s grandmother had been ill and he asked Javon if she could stay with them. Javon said yes. Then Mario’s sister-in-law got divorced and need a temporary place to stay until she got on her feet. This time, Mario didn’t ask. There were now seven people living in an apartment built for four.

The relationship between Javon and Mario became strained and tense. When Javon found out about Mario’s sister-in-law, he was upset but didn’t say anything. In August, Mario was late with the rent. In September, he wasn’t able to pay at all. By October, Javon knew he had to kick his friend out or potentially face a whole winter with a tenant who wasn’t paying.

As the mediation began, Javon told Mario that he would drop the money he was owed if Mario would move by the end of the month (about two weeks away). Mario shook his head and said he would need at least sixty days to move. At this point, the mediator began asking them some questions that helped them explore what was really important to them and prioritize those needs.

Javon relied on the rent from the unit to pay his mortgage. He owned the four-unit building, renting out three units and living in one himself. The neighbor below Mario’s unit was threatening to leave because of the noise from above now that there were so many people living there, and Javon certainly couldn’t afford to lose two paying tenants.

Mario’s hours had been cut at work, and he was trying his best to care for his needy family. His sister-in-law hadn’t been able to find a job or a place of her own yet. Even though he knew he couldn’t afford the rent at Javon’s, he was having a really hard time finding a place that would accommodate seven people on his budget. He really didn’t want to put his friend in a bind, but didn’t have any other options.

With the mediator’s help, they realized that neither wanted their current situation to stay the way it was and they had to make a change. They began to focus on a plan for Mario to move out and for Javon to have some certainty as to when he could get a new tenant in. Once the mediator had guided them through expressing the reasons behind their actions, they were quickly able to reestablish enough trust to try negotiating again.

Ultimately, Javon was willing to let Mario stay for another forty-five days without paying any new rent, but with a payment plan for the already past due rent. Now Javon would be able tell his other tenants that he had a solution to the noise problem. Mario was happy to agree to this since it would allow him to keep saving up money for a new place and have some more time to find a big enough place. It also made a way for him to commit to paying his friend back and regain some of his lost pride.

As they left, both men were obviously relieved and grateful, thanking the mediator that they didn’t have to come back to court, and that they had a plan that would meet their needs while salvaging their friendship.

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