Preserve Strong Communities with Housing Mediation

by Center for Conflict Resolution
Preserve Strong Communities with Housing Mediation

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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The parties arrived to mediation upset. Betty, the landlord, had filed an eviction case against Julie, the tenant, because Julie had fallen two months’ behind in her rent. Julie’s mother had come to court to support Julie, and was very angry that her daughter was being taken to court. Julie’s mom yelled at the landlord in the courtroom, and the judge asked her to leave before sending the parties to mediation.

Julie and Betty sat down with the mediator. Julie was worried; she and her husband had three children under the age of 10, and a dog. They had started to look for other places to live, but it was difficult to find an affordable apartment large enough for their family. Betty was also worried; she was not able to work anymore, and this building was her primary source of income. She lived in one of the units and prided herself on being a good and responsive landlord. And she needed the income from Julie’s apartment.

Betty initially offered to forgive the back rent if Julie and her family were able to move out immediately. Julie explained that she had been looking, but couldn’t find any other suitable units. Julie’s husband had just switched jobs, and a period of unemployment had left them behind in their bills. However, Julie argued that, given a short-term payment plan, they family could catch up on the rent.

Julie also raised concerns about the condition of the apartment, including a too-large hole cut into a wall for the installation of a sink, and some problems with window seals. Julie said that Betty had been a good landlord, and fixed things that needed fixing urgently, but that these problems had lingered. Betty admitted she would need to resolve those issues before she could have a new tenant move in.

The mediator helped Julie and Betty think through what might happen if they did not reach an agreement. Betty was concerned about the cost associated with repairing the unit, and, with nowhere else to go, Julie said she was considering filing a countersuit related to the issues in the apartment. Both parties felt uncertain.

The conversation began to turn. Both parties began talking in a different tone and looked at one another with more understanding. Betty had not known that Julie’s husband was working again, and that gave her hope they’d be able to make up the past-due rent. The mediator helped the parties discuss the financial obligations of the tenant’s family, and then of the land lord’s obligation to the outstanding mortgage on the apartment, and if more time was possible, what a payment arrangement might look like.

The mediator assisted Betty and Julie in writing their agreement; three-hundred-dollar payments a month, on top of the current months rent due, until the outstanding rent was paid. The tenant could stay residing in the apartment. The landlord would have her money in full, keep her tenant, and have time to make the outstanding repairs to the unit. The tenant would have the eviction case dismissed, preserve her credit, and still have a good reference for when her family does want to move.

Mediation helped Betty and Julie have a thorough conversation and make a realistic plan to move forward.

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Diamond had been a tenant in Monique’s building for several years. Monique and Diamond had a good relationship, and Monique agreed that Diamond had been a good tenant until she recently fell behind on rent. Diamond did not pay a portion of rent for March, and no rent in April or May. Prior to mediation, Diamond finished paying March and April’s rent, but still owed for May.

Monique and Diamond had a previously existing agreement that allowed Diamond to pay her rent in installments that included a small late fee. Installments were $427.50 every two weeks starting at the beginning of each month, for a total of $855/month.

In mediation, the parties gave initial statements to explain why they were in court. The mediator asked both parties about their relationship. Monique said she had always been happy to work with Diamond because she was one of her good tenants. Monique explained that she has not had any noise complaints or other issues with Diamond like she frequently has with other tenants. Diamond was proud of her history of being a good tenant and her relationship with Monique.

Mediation gave the parties a chance to discuss how to move forward. Monique said she needed the rent for May and for Diamond to be on time moving forward. Diamond explained that she recently lost her job and was having financial difficulties; she tried to communicate with Monique through texts, but felt that communication had failed. Diamond recently started a new job, and was eager to discuss a way to catch up on her rent. Both women were grateful to have a chance to discuss their situation in person, with help from the mediator.

The mediator helped the parties discuss their options. Diamond proposed a schedule that would allow her to increase her installment amount to make up the rent she owed for May, and that would be realistic moving forward. Monique felt that Diamond had violated her trust, and requested proof that Diamond was working again. Diamond agreed to work with her employer to provide Monique an employment verification. Both parties assisted with the drafting of the agreement, confirming the details of the payment arrangements. Diamond expressed relief at being able to stay in an apartment where she felt safe and comfortable, and that was a nice home for her children. Monique was relieved to be able to retain a good tenant in her building.

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Carlos, the landlord, liked his tenants, Vernon and his family. Unfortunately, they’d lately had trouble paying the rent and had fallen several months behind. Carlos couldn’t afford to keep the house without their rent. Carlos knew he had to make some repairs before he could put the house on the market, and he had to get started soon. Carlos said he’d tried to be patient, but he just couldn’t afford to wait any longer. He filed for eviction – there was nothing more to discuss.

On the day of the court hearing, the judge asked Carlos and Vernon if they’d like to try mediation. They were willing.

The mediator asked each of them about their situation and what they needed. Vernon was able to express that he respected Carlos and that he was sorry he’d been unable to pay the rent these last few months. His work hours had been cut and his family had other expenses, and he just didn’t have the money. He’d told Carlos he was trying to find a cheaper place. He also realized that having an eviction on his record would make it even more difficult to find a new home.

The last thing Carlos wanted was to make it hard for his tenants to move out. He also realized that he was unlikely to see any money from the back rent – he’d settle for possession right away. Vernon had nowhere to go right away – he wanted a couple of months. Carlos couldn’t wait that long, although he appreciated how well Vernon and his family had always kept the place, and how Vernon had fixed little things that needed fixing, and done a good job.

The mediator guided the conversation toward the repairs: Vernon told Carlos that he could do all the repairs that Carlos had listed. From that point, Carlos and Vernon agreed on a list of repairs, and Vernon estimated how long it would take him.

The mediator helped them detail their agreement in writing. Vernon would move out in two months. During that time, he would complete the agreed repairs, with Carlos supplying all materials. Carlos would waive the back rent, which he thought was uncollectible anyway, and no rent would be due for the next two months. The eviction case would be dismissed, but Carlos could reinstate it if the agreement was not fulfilled.

Vernon got the two months he felt he needed, avoided an eviction order and a judgment against him, and maintained his self-respect in the eyes of his family. Carlos would be able to get started right away preparing the house for sale.

The judge approved the agreement, and both parties left the courtroom pleased with the result.

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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.

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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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