Mar 22, 2019

Art Not Eviction

Mike is the landlord of a small apartment building. Ben signed a lease with Mike in the Spring of 2018. When they signed the lease, Ben was a client of a social services program which payed his rent. Ben has fibromyalgia, which leaves him in constant pain and is unable to work. Six months after they signed the lease, Ben was notified that the agency would no longer be providing rental assistance and that his placement in the program would be discontinued. Ben did not know there was a limit to how long he would be served by the program and was very surprised by the news. Ben was unable to pay his rent for three months. After the third month, Mike filed a case in eviction court.

In court, the judge referred Mike and Ben to mediation with CCR. During the mediation, Mike said he had no problems with Ben as a tenant, adding that this was business, not personal. He mentioned as a single parent he was dependent on the income he made from the rent to care for his children. He stated he had given Ben many extensions to pay his rent to no avail. Finally, about three months ago, Ben told Mike that he would move out, but the date for him to leave the apartment came and Ben did not move. Mike felt he was completely stuck and had no choice but to file the court case.

Ben explained he knew that he was behind in rent, and it was not his intention to take advantage of Mike situation and live rent free. He explained his financial situation and said he had been looking for additional assistance after the first program ended, but had been unable to find any help.

The mediator helped the men have a focused conversation about their situation, helping them identify that they had a number of common interests. They both agreed that Ben needed to leave the apartment and that they respected one another. Ben said he had arranged to move in with friends, but had been unable to do so because he could not afford the costs associated with moving, like a truck and movers. After further discussion, Mike asked, “If I can get a truck and a couple of guys, can you move out today?” Ben said he could, so Mike made a few calls on his cell phone and arranged to have his brother and a friend come to the apartment and move Ben that evening.

It seemed like the parties had a clear plan, so the mediator began drafting an agreement. While the mediator was completing the paperwork, Mike expressed a bit of ambivalence. When questioned by the mediator, he stated dissatisfaction with the terms of the agreement, asking “I’m doing all of this for him, but what am I getting?” The agreement did not require Ben to pay any of the past due rent, but was simply a plan for Ben to move out with Mike’s support. Mike pointed out that he thought he had been very generous and that he was insulted that Ben had not offered to give him anything. Ben agreed that Mike was very generous, but pointed out that he could not pay. “You could have offered me a painting,” Mike said. The mediator had not heard about paintings before and asked Mike to clarify.  Mike replied, “His paintings. He paints. I saw a lot of paintings in his apartment, and they’re beautiful!” Ben responded that he does paint, and has many of his paintings in his apartment. He was flattered that Mike was interested in his paintings and grateful to be able to offer something in exchange for forgiving the past due rent. Ben said, “You can have 10 paintings! Any ones you want.”

The mediator helped the parties discuss the paintings in more detail and they came to an agreement about the specific pieces Mike would take. After the mediation the parties presented their agreement to the judge and left court together - a plan in place that would benefit both of them.

Jan 18, 2019

Repairing Harm and Relationships

Zhang came to mediation because he had been arrested for using a BB gun to shoot out the windows of his old elementary school. Zhang and his mother, Li, met with Patricia and Bernice, the principal and dean of students of the school. Patricia and Bernice had helped Zhang through some behavioral issues when he was a student at the elementary school, and so were familiar with Zhang and his family.

When the mediator convened the session, he first met with both sides privately to ensure everyone understood his role and to hear their concerns. During this initial phase, Zhang and Li expressed that their main desire was to apologize for the incident, take responsibility for it and resolve the issue so it could be put behind them.

Patricia and Bernice were both deeply hurt and angry. This incident caused physical damage to the school; it was fear-inducing incident for students and also for administrators in the age of mass school shootings; and it also felt like a personal betrayal because of all the energy they had invested in Zhang already. The fact that Li had not offered any acknowledgement of the incident for months was even more galling.

When the mediator brought the parties together, he started by giving Zhang a chance to speak and explain what happened from his perspective – the incident was unrelated to his old elementary school, but due to personal frustration about the fact that his mother and father had separated a few years ago and he felt things had been deteriorating in their home life ever since. An uncle had given him a BB gun and he had been using it to shoot out his frustrations on bottles and cans in a back alley near the school. On his way home, he just kept shooting things and happened to be going by the school. Some other kids were around and it developed into some sort of dare and a way to impress the group.

Once Patricia and Bernice heard this, they were relieved to understand that it wasn’t something more sinister or dangerous to the future of the school and its students. However, they still felt betrayed, disrespected, and disappointed that Zhang would do something like this after all they had done for him and his family. Furthermore, they expressed frustration and confusion about why Li never approached them to address the issue or try to make it right. As the mediator helped summarize and clarify the detailed reasons behind their emotions, it became clear that they were primarily looking for respect and acknowledgement that they had been damaged both physically and emotionally by this incident.

 Li was able to address this by describing how she had been angry at Zhang for having the BB gun in the first place and embarrassed that she hadn’t been more aware of his behavior. Because of her shame around the issue, she had avoided the two administrators as much as possible. Additionally, she was told by the police that she should hire an attorney and not talk about the case until she had done so. Since she couldn’t afford that, she felt her only option was to wait until the courts decided the punishment and try her best to swallow the consequences.

By being given the opportunity to tell their story and have it heard by the school representatives, Zhang and Li were able to express remorse about their actions while providing context for them. This allowed Patricia and Bernice to mitigate their fear and anger around the lack of communication and to begin to focus on restoration rather than punishment.

After guiding the conversation to this point, the mediator then helped the parties craft an agreement that outlined a specific schedule of service work that Zhang would do at the school on a weekly basis until the cost of the damage had been worked out. They also agreed that Bernice would communicate with Zhang about his grade reports and if he received good grades, it would reduce his number of service hours by a certain amount. When the mediation was over, they all hugged and promised to stay in communication should anything change or need to be adjusted.

Dec 26, 2018

Back Rent and Bedbugs - Preserving a Landlord-Tenant Relationship

Back Rent and Bedbugs

Henry and Michael had an amicable landlord-tenant relationship for five years, and after the judge in eviction court referred them to mediation, they both expressed a desire to preserve that relationship. They ended up in court primarily due to lack of communication. Michael failed to pay a couple of months’ rent and when Henry tried to reach out to him, Michael ceased all communication. Henry, frustrated about his money and inability to speak with his tenant, sued for eviction.

During the mediation, both parties were friendly with each other. Michael admitted he failed to make the payment and acknowledged that he cut off all communication with the landlord. Henry was kind and told Michael that he understood, but that he needed to get paid in order to run the building, and his finances had been stressed by some recent necessary repairs.

Over the past five years, there had been a couple of other times when Michael could not pay the rent and would communicate his inability to pay to Henry, and the two would come up with a payment plan. These payments ranged from week-to-week or even day-by-day. Henry was surprised Michael did not inform him about his financial hardships like he had in the past. Michael said that he was embarrassed and for that reason decided to not answer Henry’s efforts to speak with him.

Michael also mentioned that he recently heard from another tenant that there was an issue with bedbugs in her unit. This was news to Henry, and he was alarmed, and glad that Michael had mentioned it. Michael was concerned the infestation would spread to other units, and offered to help Henry look into companies to evaluate the situation.

During the mediation, communication was the main issue. The landlord informed the tenant that the only reason he sued him was because he couldn’t think of any other way to get him to respond. Since both were interested in continuing their relationship, they were able to come to an agreement. Michael told Henry that his work hours had picked up over the past couple of weeks and that he could pay him in cash for the past due rent the next day. He also promised Henry that the next time he thought he might have difficulty paying on time that he would contact him and be transparent about his financial situation. Henry promised to immediately look into and correct the potential bedbug infestation.

When the mediation ended, both parties shook hands over their agreement. Mediation gave them a chance to problem-solve together and provided a venue for them to exchange important information.

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