Dec 28, 2017

Preserving Relationships with Housing Mediation

Marisol and her husband James found themselves in court to evict their tenant Eric after a series of unfortunate events. Several years ago, Marisol and James purchased their dream home with the assistance of Marisol’s father, who co-signed for their loan. They moved in with their infant son, Tomas. About a year after they moved in, Tomas was involved in an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. They moved into an apartment because their home was multi-story and was difficult for Tomas to navigate. Marisol and James rented the house to a woman who quickly fell far behind in the rent and then disappeared. As a result of her nonpayment of rent, they found their house in foreclosure.

Knowing that the process was likely to take a while to unfold, and hoping they’d be able to get a loan modification in the meantime, they reached out to Eric. Eric was a family friend of many years – he was engaged to Marisol’s cousin, they had cared for each other’s children, and they all shared a relationship of trust and respect. Eric needed a place to live for his three children, and while he knew his tenancy was subject to the foreclosure process, he saw it as a great place to stay while he looked for other long-term options. Shortly after Eric moved in, he was injured at work and was not paid for several months. As a result, he fell behind on his rent payments. Eric tried to contribute in other ways, such as finding a great deal on a new air conditioning unit for the home and installing it with his brother. Marisol and James were very appreciative of his efforts, but asserted that the value of the work on the home did not outweigh the back rent that was owed. With an upcoming court date on their foreclosure case, they wanted to recoup some of the rent money to help their case for a loan modification, and to set a date for Eric to move out in case they needed to work out a short-sale instead. Communication had grown strained in the following weeks, and not knowing what else to do, Marisol and James had served Eric with a 5 day notice.

When the parties appeared in court the judge offered them an opportunity for mediation and all three of them wanted the chance to talk. During the mediation, Marisol expressed how important the home was for her – with tears in her eyes, she explained that it was “the only home I ever saw my son walk in.” She also did not want her father’s credit to be compromised after he had tried to help them. Eric had a close relationship with Tomas, and had also come to know Marisol’s father. Their common relationship in Marisol’s cousin and Eric’s fiancé was very important for all of them to maintain. Eric did not want to put Marisol and James in a difficult spot, but he also was concerned with providing for his children and catching up on his bills from when he was injured. Through discussion, they were able to work out a solution, taking Eric’s work on the home into account. Eric worked through his budget in detail, and everyone agreed on a payment plan to take place leading up to the court date for the foreclosure case. They also agreed on a date for Eric to move out that would give him enough time to work with his fiancé on finding a new place to live.

 Mediation provided the opportunity for a structured conversation that helped Marisol, James and Eric to focus on what was most important to them, and to work collaboratively on a solution. The parties left discussing plans to celebrate an upcoming holiday together.

Oct 30, 2017

Family Solves Their Problem

Lara, 17, and Jaclyn, 20, are sisters. They were arrested together four months ago. Lara was accused of illegally giving her older sister a 20% discount at a department store where Lara was employed. Store security saw them on camera and called the police. The sisters were arrested and escorted from the store in handcuffs.

When the sisters came to mediation, Jaclyn’s case was in criminal court and the family was worried that the outcome would affect her ability to go to medical school. Lara’s case was being heard in juvenile court and her record was eligible for expungement in six months if she did not get into trouble again and successfully completed a program designed by the court. One of the requirements for Lara was that she participate in mediation through CCR. The department store did not send a representative to the mediation at the courthouse, so CCR held a family mediation with Lara and her father, Luis.

Luis began the mediation by expressing his concern that he and his family are part of a small community and he didn’t want word of his daughters’ arrests to get out. He built a successful business since moving to the United States and said that he works hard to give his children everything they might need or want. All he wanted was that his daughters work hard in school and bring pride to the family.

Lara explained that she felt her parents didn’t give her the same level of trust that they did Jaclyn. She wanted to prove that she could hold down a job and still get good grades in school. She also wanted to impress Jaclyn with her new position, and so she arranged for a discount on merchandise her sister purchased.

Over the course of the mediation, Lara acknowledged that she did something wrong and hadn’t thought through the consequences. She never considered how this might affect her family, especially her older sister. Luis acknowledged that he needs to improve communication with his daughters. He had been too busy working in his store and he felt badly about not paying more attention to what was going on in the family.

At the end of the mediation, Luis agreed to spend some time each evening connecting with his daughters. Lara agreed that something like this will not happen again, and that she will be more careful to consider the impact of her actions on the family in the future.

Oct 4, 2017

A Plan To Grow Up

Sharon felt like she had nowhere left to turn. Her 19-year-old stepson, Cody, had been living with her for years and she had recently become very concerned about his behavior. After multiple fruitless conversations, Sharon filed a case in eviction court to try to have Cody move out of the house.

When Sharon and Cody appeared in court the judge sent the parties to mediation with the Center for Conflict Resolution. The mediator asked each of them to tell their stories and learned that Sharon had been married to Cody’s dad, but that there had been a divorce 3 years ago. At the time, Cody’s father was not able to find a new apartment in Cody’s school district and so the three of them had agreed that Cody would continue to live with Sharon.  When Cody graduated high school Sharon told him he could stay in his room in the basement if he paid some rent and continued to do chores around the house. The two of them had never agreed on an amount of rent, though, and Cody had never paid Sharon any money.

The mediator asked more questions and learned that in the 6 months leading up to the mediation, Sharon and Cody had fallen into a pattern where they would have a large fight, then not speak for a few weeks, and then return to living together peacefully. Sharon did not know what Cody was doing for work and she disclosed during the mediation that she was afraid her house had become a hangout spot for teenagers to drink and play video games. She did not want this behavior in the house because she felt it created liability and was unproductive for Cody. She wanted him to work or go to school.

Cody was nervous about having a law suit filed against him. He told Sharon that he had been looking for full-time work, but that he wasn’t qualified to do anything that paid enough. Cody said that he knew it was time for him to move out on his own, but that he simply did not know how to get started.

The mediator continued to facilitate the conversation and helped the parties realize that they both wanted the same things – for Cody to be gainfully employed and for him to move out on his own. They created a plan for Cody to get a job and move out in 6 months. During the next 6 months, Sharon agreed that Cody did not have to pay rent, but that he did have to give her money every month which she would save for him and return to him when he moved out. They both thought this would be good practice for Cody. Additionally, Cody agreed not to have guests over without Sharon’s permission and to search more aggressively for work.

During the mediation Sharon had a chance to express her frustration and hopelessness. Cody, on the other hand, had the opportunity to discuss his independence and to be treated as an adult. Once they were able to express themselves, they were able to build a plan that would allow them to maintain their relationship and to come to resolution. 

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