Preserve Strong Communities with Housing Mediation

by Center for Conflict Resolution
Preserve Strong Communities with Housing Mediation

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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Maria and Eva went to mediation with the Center for Conflict Resolution when Maria filed an eviction case against Eva.

Maria was fed up. She had allowed her daughter, Eva, and Eva’s infant daughter, to stay with her as Eva tried to find a new place to live. Eva had just left her husband and was desperate for a place to stay until she got on her feet. While she didn’t relish moving back in with her mother, she didn’t have any other options and here they were. 

It was supposed to be a very short-term solution, but now, seven months later, Maria had tried numerous times to get Eva to go, only to be told by Eva that Maria would have to go to court to evict her in order to get her out. 

The relationship between the parties had been strained and tense for quite some time. Now it had reached the point that if one said the sky was blue, the other said it was red. If one complained that the other filled the fridge too full, the other was irked because of empty soda cans left lying around the house.

Both women used significant time to unpack the misery and “violations” the other had visited upon them and they did so in a cascading, tit-for-tat manner. Primary among these was an overall sense from each of them that "this isn't how you treat family!" But after a while, they were both exhausted. 

At this point, the mediator gently began asking some questions to help them explore what was really important to them and prioritize those needs. 

Maria needed a return to peace, normalcy, and to be able to enjoy living in her own home again. Eva had very little income and had a month to go before starting a new job, so she was still in need of a place to sleep and inexpensive child care for her daughter while she saved up enough to get a place of her own. 

Through the mediator’s help, they both realized that neither wanted their current living situation to stay the way it was and that they were very unlikely to improve the dynamics of their increasingly antagonistic relationship in such close quarters. This allowed them to begin to focus on what plan was necessary to find a way for Eva to move out and for Maria to have some certainty as to when she could reclaim her home. 

By contrasting their potential win or lose outcomes in court to what they could control and implement themselves, the mediator was able to help them craft an agreement. Maria agreed to let Eva stay for up to two more months while Eva agreed to offer more help around the house and to talk to Maria each week about potential places she had contacted to rent. Maria also agreed to continue to provide child care for her granddaughter at very little cost, even after Eva found a new place, as long as it wasn't too far away. 

Both women expressed relief that they had been able to get some things off their chests and focus on a positive plan with which to pursue their goals. 

Furthermore, they were able to put a case to rest in which, no matter the judge's decision, both of them would have lost something significant: their relationship. Instead, they left with a starting point to repair it. 

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When I met the sister and brother who arrived at CCR having agreed to mediate the disputes that had arisen since they’d jointly purchased a house in Chicago I saw little hope of them resolving their differences.

Edward and Liz were siblings who were living in the same house. Edward had been renting out the finished basement in Liz’s house, below two floors that were occupied by Liz and her two children. In many ways, they said it was an ideal situation. Edward was able to have a close relationship with his niece and nephew, and helped out with maintenance on the house in return for a lowered rent on his space.

But there were a number of issues that brought Edward and Liz to mediation. Issues that had Liz considering filing an eviction notice against Edward. Edward had fallen behind in his rent, and Liz explained that several nights a week, Edward came home late and disturbed her sleeping children. Edward said he often tried to leave the house specifically until the kids were asleep because the noise they made in the evenings disturbed him and interrupted his own sleep. One night, they had a bad fight about it and he called the police, which upset Liz.

During the mediation, at first Edward and Liz spoke only to the mediator, seeming uncomfortable with addressing each other. Eventually the mediator helped them begin speaking to each other by asking them questions about how they had originally envisioned sharing the house. They were able to discuss the great relationship they had always had. They reflected on the advantages of living in the same home. And then the mediator helped them begin to discuss ways to resolve the problems that had come up. Both Edward and Liz agreed they wanted to work it out.

They did. The siblings came up with an eleven-point agreement that satisfied them both. Edward and Liz agreed to build a separate entrance to the basement space and outlined boundaries for when the children would settle down for the evening. They also resolved an ongoing disagreement regarding the placement of their mailboxes and worked out shared storage space in the attic. The siblings left the mediation glad they had worked out a way to move forward that allowed them to improve their relationship while continuing to live in the same house.

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Thanks to donations received through our Housing Mediation project, Center for Conflict Resolution volunteers are able to mediate cases like the one described below:

David had been living with his grandfather, Elijah, since he was 18. Over the last 5 years their relationship had become strained and, after many fights and threats, Elijah had filed a case in eviction court to get David to move out of the house. The parties arrived at court and had a chance to meet with a mediator from CCR before seeing the judge.

During the mediation both men talked about how hard it was to live in the house together. Elijah thought that his grandson was irresponsible, that he was doing drugs, and that he was making poor decisions in his life. David was insulted by Elijah’s accusations and insisted that he had only experimented with drugs a little and that he was an adult. David made it clear that although he might not be making the best decisions, he was entitled to make decisions for himself.

It was clear to the mediator that the conversation between the men was not a new one. David and Elijah said they’d been having this fight, on and off, for most of the last 3 years. In fact, a similar conflict between David and his mother is what resulted in him living with his grandfather in the first place. Through conversation, the mediator helped the parties determine what was most important to them. They both agreed that the living arrangement could not continue and that they needed a change. David said that he was willing to move out of the house, but needed time to save some money and make a plan. Elijah said he was in no rush to move David out of the house, but that he wanted a firm date set.

In addition to helping the parties develop their basic plan for David to move out, the mediator facilitated a conversation about the living arrangement and about their relationship. David was very hurt to have been sued by his grandfather and feared that the court case would have an impact on his credit. Elijah expressed his regret about filing the court case, but said that he had felt desperate to find a resolution, noting that his previous conversations with David had not yielded any results.

At the end of the mediation the parties had a plan in place that included a move-out date for David as well as details about how the two would interact in the time they still lived together. Due to mediation, the parties were able to avoid court and leave together.

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Conflict between unit owners and condominium associations is very common, and mediation can be a great resource for resolving it. Center for Conflict Resolution's Housing Mediation program regularly serves parties with this type of dispute. Here is a recent example:

Dorothy was a condo owner who had a dispute with her condo association that took 14 months to finally resolve.

Dorothy was very surprised one day to find an invoice in her mailbox for $900 in plumbing repairs, even though she had no damage to her unit. The letter stated that the leak occurred in a wall that was part of her unit; therefore she was responsible for the cost. Nothing had been communicated to Dorothy about the work, and when the work was done, the plumber never entered her condo. Dorothy believed the leak occurred in a common area and that she was not responsible for the charges.

Dorothy communicated her disagreement to the Condo Association and held off on paying the plumbing bill while she waited for an answer. She was initially frustrated that she had not been informed of any of the plumbing problems, but then she felt increasingly disrespected by a lack of response from the Condo association. Dorothy decided to withhold her monthly assessment of $215. Several months went by without any action on the part of the Condo Association. Then Dorothy received notice that she was being taken to court.

Dorothy realized she needed a lawyer, which took time to find and added expense. There were 3 different court appearances over the 14 months, and each time the Condo Association was represented by a different attorney and the case continued. By the time this case came to court for the 4th time, Dorothy was being asked to pay almost $8,000 in late charges, attorney fees, court costs and of course, the initial $900 for the plumbing problem. Both parties agreed to mediation the morning they were set to go to trial.

After initial statements, both parties expressed a willingness to try to resolve the matter. By this time, Dorothy had a different understanding of the meaning of “common area” and acknowledged that she had withheld her monthly assessments due to frustration about the lack of communication she received from the Condo Association. The Condo Association’s attorney acknowledged that they were willing to negotiate lesser amounts for attorney’s fees and some charges.

During the initial negotiation the parties grew angrier as both sides made offers that were deemed too low or too high by the other party. The mediator worked to reframe the offers on the table, acknowledging that the parties were both interested in settlement and that both parties acknowledged their responsibility in the escalation of the conflict. The mediator’s presence and perspective kept the discussion focused and the parties were able to agree on a total that they both thought was fair. Additionally, the terms of payment were discussed and a payment plan extending for 24 months was approved by both parties.

Both parties left the mediation on good terms and were relieved that the matter had been resolved.

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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
 
214 donations
$30,962 to go
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