Preserve Strong Communities with Housing Mediation

by Center for Conflict Resolution
Preserve Strong Communities with Housing Mediation

 

John, a 72-year-old landlord, leased one of his apartments to Eric for several years. Eric was a good tenant who historically paid his rent on time. For some reason, however, Eric stopped paying rent in February of this year. There was no rental payment in March either, and John decided to pay Eric a visit. John visited Eric at the apartment, and was frustrated and angered when he had to repeatedly bang on the door and wait for Eric to answer. When Eric finally came to the door, Eric simply said he didn’t have the rent and turned John away. Even more infuriated, and feeling disrespected, John eventually served Eric with a five-day eviction notice and filed a suit in court seeking what was now three months of unpaid rent as well as court costs—an amount totaling $2,479.

Upon being served with the court summons, Eric reached out to John’s son, John Jr., to attempt to negotiate a payment plan so that he could pay off the money he owed to John. John Jr. denied Eric’s request, and John and Eric appeared in court. The judge referred their case to CCR mediators to try and work out an agreement.

When John and Eric entered the mediation room, John made his frustration with Eric very apparent, noting that Eric had been irresponsible and uncooperative. He stated that he wanted “every penny owed” at that moment – he was unwilling to consider a payment plan. He also wanted Eric to move out as soon as possible. Eric admitted that he owed the $2,100 in back rent, and stated that he was appearing in court and was willing to mediate because he respected John. He also apologized for a breakdown in communication. Over the course of the mediation, Eric opened up and explained that in January, he was in a bad car accident and wound up owing a lot of money.   He further explained how he had fallen behind in several other payment areas, not just his rent, and was asked to help his grandmother pay part of her rent. To better the situation, Eric took on a second job and was working 18 hour days. He had recently started this job on the day John visited his apartment, and explained how he was sleeping when John came to the door. Eric showed John that he was a private and proud person, but one who was willing to take responsibility for his actions and who wanted to work out a payment plan.

Still somewhat frustrated, John stated that he wished Eric would have called him instead of texting John Jr. Upon hearing the new information about why Eric was unable to pay the rent and the actions he was taking to make good on his obligations, John immediately agreed to a payment plan for Eric and allowed him to stay in the unit for the rest of the month. With help from one of CCR’s mediators, Eric and John worked out a sustainable and realistic payment plan ($150 every two weeks) and practical move-out date. They also discussed what would happen if Eric was unable to pay or fell behind on payments.

At the end of the mediation, John shook Eric’s hand and wished him luck. Eric thanked him and said that he appreciated the low stress environment created in mediation and enjoyed the real communication between the two parties.

By focusing on the breakdown of communication between a landlord and tenant, CCR was able to help maintain a relationship and get both parties what they needed.

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Dave and Wes ended up in mediation with the Center for Conflict Resolution when Wes filed an eviction case against Dave. Before trial, the parties were given an opportunity to meet with the mediator, where they told their respective stories.

Fifteen years ago Wes purchased a small apartment building with 4 units Southwest of Chicago. He thought the investment was particularly wise because the rent provided him with enough income to cover the mortgage and expenses. A few years after he purchased the building, Wes’s parents retired and they took over the task of managing it as a sort of hobby. In return, Wes gave them a small monthly stipend which they used for travel and out-of-the-ordinary expenses.

Dave had been renting an apartment in Wes’s building for the past 8 years. He worked from home and loved the apartment and the neighborhood. He also had an exceptional relationship with Wes’s parents, who he thought took great care of the building and the tenants. Over the past 6 months, Dave noticed that he hadn’t seen Wes’s parents, the Landlords, as he thought of them, very much and one day he received a notice taped to his door that they would no longer be collecting rent in person, but that Dave should mail it to an address he had never heard of before.

Dave was concerned about sending his checks to an unknown address, so he phoned the Landlords, left a message, and a few days later Wes called him back. Wes had explained that his parents did not own the building, that it was his and that they were in deteriorating health and were no longer helping with the care of the building. Dave agreed to send the checks for rent to Wes, but requested that Wes make a few outstanding repairs to his apartment. Primarily, Dave wanted his doorbell fixed.

Wes never repaired the doorbell. Dave never sent his rent check. Two months later the men were sitting in mediation.

After hearing the men’s stories, the mediator began to inquire about what was important to both men. She learned that Dave really needed to have a functioning doorbell - he worked from home and needed to receive deliveries, but had been missing packages because there was no way for the delivery person to leave them. Furthermore, Dave felt disrespected by Wes’s unwillingness to make the repair. He also learned that Wes was feeling overburdened with the work of managing the building and that his parents’ failing health was distracting for him. Although he’d owned the building for many years, Wes had not been that involved and the tenants had not been receptive to his sudden appearance and apparent reluctance to make repairs. Additionally, the doorbell repair was a costly project that would require installation of a new intercom system and Wes was not able to make that investment in the building.

In the end, Wes agreed to research alternative doorbells which would provide Dave with the access to deliveries that he needed. Dave agreed to pay the past due rent and Wes forgave any outstanding late fees. Both parties agreed that the circumstance had been better when Wes’s parents were managing the building, but recognized that they would need to work with each other moving forward. The mediation gave them the opportunity to restart their relationship as landlord and tenant and opened communication between them.

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At first, the case appeared to be a typical landlord-tenant dispute: The tenant, Debra, had a one year lease that had expired and the landlord, Chris, was seeking to evict her. Through conversation, the mediator learned that Debra and Chris were siblings, and that the house Debra was living in was the family home they were both raised in. The house had been owned by their father, who had died without a will. At some point, the siblings had agreed that the house would be put in Chris’s name, but that Debra would live there and pay rent. When the lease was up, Debra refused to leave and Chris sued her in eviction court.

Chris’s needs were largely financial. He had been paying nearly all the expenses generated by the home since their father’s death, and his sister’s rent payments had been erratic. He wanted to sell the house because it had become a burden. He believed he had bent over backwards to help his sister financially, but could no longer afford to burden his family by continuing to do so. Debra, on the other hand, was a single mother of three struggling financially and had a strong emotional attachment to the family home. She was attempting to get financing to purchase the home from her brother for $90,000, which Chris said was below the $110,000 market value of the home.

The mediator helped Chris and Debra talk through the issues and arrive at an agreement in which a judgment of possession was entered, but enforcement of that judgment was stayed for approximately 70 days. Debra agreed to pay rent during that time, and Chris agreed that if she got the necessary financing and paid the $90,000 purchase price the judgment of possession would be vacated. Debra agreed to move out if she could not secure financing by the agreed upon deadline. Debra and Chris came into the mediation with a lot of anger and resentment toward each other. The siblings were given time to express their concerns, develop greater understanding of what was happening for the other, and problem-solve together. By the end of the process they were laughing and smiling with each other.

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Javier had rented a house from Rick for the past four years. During that time he had been a good tenant, paying his rent on time, and even doing little things here and there to keep the place up.  Recently, however, Javier had lost his job and his wife was only working part time, so money was really tight. With three children at home, they had to make some tough decisions and had fallen a few months behind on rent.

Rick had been a landlord for about 30 years. It's how he made his living. Over time he had accumulated several properties but was now getting older and in the process of downsizing. His daughter had recently gotten married to a man named Kyle, and Rick had given them one of the properties to manage as a wedding present. However, there had been a few incidents of property damage and folks missing their rent obligations, so Rick had decided to step in and show Kyle how to evict someone. Unfortunately, that person was Javier.

Through the conversation, the mediator found out that while Kyle's position was that Javier had to leave, and Javier's position was that he needed more time (and money) to find a new place to take his family, there were some underlying interests for both of them that led to a better outcome.

Javier mentioned that some of the people who had caused problems in the building were Latino, and he didn't want to be lumped in with that group just because he was as well. He was embarrassed about falling behind in the rent, but was a little angry because he felt like Kyle and Rick may have stereotyped him because of others. He had recently gotten a new job and could afford to pay the rent again, plus a little extra to make up the back rent, but he wasn't sure he wanted to stay at this place if the landlords were going to discriminate.

Rick's perspective was that he was actually sorry to see Javier go, because he had always been a good tenant, but he was concerned that if income from the building didn't improve, Kyle and his daughter may end up losing the building and the head start he had given them through his hard work. He was also interested in Kyle learning how to manage the property on his own since he was getting older, and knowing how to evict someone was an important part of that.

For Kyle's part, he wanted to prove to his father-in-law that he was capable of managing the property and taking care of his own family.

With the help of the mediator, these three men were able to move beyond their positions and assumptions and see each other as people trying to do the best they could for themselves and their families. Once it became clear that they each felt bad about the situation and were really interested in finding a positive solution, they were able to come to an agreement.

Javier would stay and pay down the back rent over about six months. That would allow him and his family to keep their housing and avoid the stigma of eviction. It would also provide enough income for Kyle to stay ahead of the mortgage payments on the building and create a solution that put less stress on his relationship with Rick. Rick was able to achieve his goal of showing Kyle how the process worked and keep a good tenant while avoiding the appearance of being a discriminatory landlord.

In the end, the agreement met all the underlying interests of the parties and was an outcome they never would've gotten going to trial in front of a judge who would have to decide in stark terms if Javier's family would simply have to go or stay.

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Anita had been suffering from allergies for the better part of a year. She had seen numerous doctors, herbalists, and specialists and had spent thousands of dollars. Despite her pension and medical benefits, the co-pays had begun to pile up and she had fallen behind on rent. Finally, Anita got clear answers from one of her doctors. She was allergic to mold spores and the spores were likely in a place she visited frequently. Anita remembered a few months previously, when her landlord had hired professionals to do repair work for water damage on the first floor of her building. Even though she lived on the third floor, Anita worried that mold from the water damage might have become airborne and traveled into her apartment. Horrified, Anita packed her bags and moved in with a friend, trying to distance herself from the apartment she had rented for years. She was devastated to think that her own home had been making her sick all this time. While Anita’s symptoms became more manageable she decided to move out of her apartment.

David, Anita’s landlord, had rented to Anita for years. He couldn’t understand why a good tenant who had always paid rent would suddenly stop paying and not communicate with him. David felt he had no choice but to file in court. He had been taken advantage of by tenants in the past and hoped to avoid a similar circumstance with Anita.

The parties opted for mediation after a pro-bono attorney recommended it to Anita. CCR mediators were on-site during the landlord/tenant court call and were able to take the case immediately. In mediation, Anita had a chance to explain her allergies and expressed her concerns that there was something in the apartment that was making her sick. Because of the water damage and from what she had heard from neighbors, Anita was convinced there was mold in her apartment. David was surprised to hear of her concerns, since there had been no mold when the water damage was repaired, although he had not conveyed this to his tenants.

The mediator was able to facilitate a conversation between David and Anita about what had occurred with the water in the building. Both parties got new information – Anita did not realize there had been no mold and David did not realize that his tenants were concerned. The two agreed that they had had a good relationship in the past and both parties wished to come to an agreement in mediation. The mediator was able to help them make a realistic plan that would work for both parties. Anita was interested in leaving the apartment as soon as possible, since she was feeling much better not living there, and David hoped to have a new tenant in the unit quickly. Anita was willing to pay David the money she owed him for rent, but was unable to do so immediately. With the mediators help, the two were able to find a dollar amount and payment plan that was feasible.

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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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