Preserve Strong Communities with Housing Mediation

by Center for Conflict Resolution
Preserve Strong Communities with Housing Mediation

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.

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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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Tina had only lived in the apartment since spring, but by July she had stopped paying rent. Her landlord, Terry, had been a landlord for over 30 years and when Tina stopped paying rent, he filed for an eviction.

On the first court date the judge sent the parties to mediation. In mediation, Terry explained that he considered himself to be a very fair person and expected his tenants to be the same. He said that he told his tenants that they could break the lease at any time if they weren’t happy. For Terry, however, it was important that he be paid the rent that was owed to him under the lease while the tenant was still there. The mediator noted that it seemed like being paid rent was a matter of respect for him.

Tina had never been to eviction court before. She was angry that Terry had filed the case and unfamiliar with an eviction proceeding. She was resistant to engage in the mediation process. With arms folded she said that she would take her chances with the judge. Tina said the apartment was not adequate and she didn’t want to stay there and that because of the condition of the apartment she should not be obligated to pay the rent. The mediator gave Tina a chance to express her frustrations with Terry and with going to court. The mediator explained that Tina would not be obligated to come to any agreement in mediation and would be free to see the judge if the case did not settle.

Tina agreed to participate in the mediation and in telling her story the mediator learned that Tina had three children and would need time to find a place for them all to move. She also said that she needed what money she had to find a new place and would not be able to pay any money to Terry while trying to secure new housing.

The mediator facilitated a conversation between both parties and in the end Tina agreed that she would pay Terry some of what he was asking for in exchange for the ability to determine the date upon which she would leave the apartment. She was willing to pay Terry an amount on her next pay date and agreed that he would keep her deposit. For his part, Terry realized that although he was not going to get all of the rent that he sought, settling for some of the money and knowing the date the apartment would again be available to rent allowed him more certainty.

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Aricela and Marisol have worked at the same company for several years. They are in the same department, see each other every day, and get along well. Several months ago, Aricela needed to go to California to be with her mother, who was ill. She was looking for someone to watch over her home while she was gone. As it happened, Marisol’s lease was up, and she was looking for somewhere to stay. They agreed that Marisol would move into Aricela’s home and pay $500 per month. Since Aricela’s mother’s health was unstable, the two did not discuss timing or make a specific agreement about how long the arrangement would last. When Aricela filed an eviction action against Marisol after claiming unpaid rent, the two ended up in court and were referred to mediation.

The arrangement had worked out well for the first several months. When Marisol sent Aricela the rent money, Aricela would send back a written receipt. Aricela kept a record of the money that came in, which was usually in the form of a cashier’s check, although occasionally Marisol paid in cash. Aricela brought an eviction action claiming she had not been paid for April rent; Marisol said she gave Aricela the payment in cash, but had forgotten to get a receipt.

There was an additional issue; after several months, Aricela’s mother seemed to be doing a lot better. She did not need Aricela’s assistance anymore, so Aricela decided to move back to Chicago. Both parties agreed that since there were multiple bedrooms, Marisol would continue to stay in the home. However, once Aricela moved back in, Aricela discovered that Marisol was hosting more people in the home than she had expected. Marisol’s new boyfriend had moved in, and some of Marisol’s nieces and nephews sometimes stayed over.

Aricela explained that having new people in her home, who she didn’t know, made her uncomfortable. Marisol said that while she was paying rent, she felt she should have the freedom of allowing her boyfriend and family members to stay with her. She said that the nieces and nephews only stayed every once in a while, and that they were not disruptive. In fact, they helped her with the dishes, daily household chores, and were very respectful.

After talking the issue through, Aricela identified that her primary interest was feeling comfortable in her own home. She also wanted to make sure that she was not being taken advantage of by Marisol. Marisol needed a stable living situation until she found a new place to live. Both parties valued their ongoing relationship, since they still work together. To preserve their relationship, the parties agreed that Marisol would move out, but would have two months to find housing. Aricela agreed to forgive April’s rent as long as Marisol paid for the current month of May in full during the mediation, and also agreed to pay for June and July on specified dates. Aricela agreed to give Marisol written receipts for payment.

With the help of the mediator, the parties crafted an agreement that allowed them to avoid court and preserve their relationship.

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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.

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Center for Conflict Resolution

Location: Chicago, IL - USA
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Project Leader:
Cassandra Lively
Chicago, IL United States
$44,038 raised of $75,000 goal
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