Client Story: Mediating Landlords and Tenants

Mediating Landlords and Tenants

          Landlord-tenant cases are some of the most frequent cases that come across the desks of the mediators of the APADRC—they also represent one of the most challenging subset of cases to mediate. This is due to the inherent complexities of the landlord-tenant relationship such as: power imbalance and the need for functioning ongoing relationships post-mediation.  LandlordTenant1

            Party one, a group of students, sought the services of the APADRC after realizing that they could not resolve the dispute with their landlord without the help of a third party. There were many factors at play in this ongoing dispute with one of the main factors being miscommunication between the two parties. The landlord felt frustration at the students’ lack of understanding of certain cultural practices and the students felt ignored by the management. This is the deadlock that the APADRC was asked to resolve through mediation.

This may seem like a daunting task, but upon closer inspection the APADRC was able to identify and build relationships with the leaders of the two parties through regular telephone calls. We were able to keep both parties updated as to the status of this case; however there were definitely roadblocks encountered. Persistence is key in mediation and this case exemplifies this principle as evidenced by the incessant voicemails and follow-up phone calls to ensure that both sides received the most up-to-date information.

The next step in this conciliation required the DRC staff to explain some American cultural norms; this was necessary because some of the ideas seemed suspicious to party one when party two attempted to communicate these norms. For example, we explained the “middleman situation” of the landlord in this case and how this position disallowed issuing an immediate rent credit. In addition, we explained the students’ frustration with the prolonged process of receiving what they felt was their due reward. It was also necessary to explain to both parties that using examples involving other individuals outside of the case is detrimental to the conciliatory process.

Maintaining a positive attitude and facilitating forward movement in a case is extremely crucial and this case attests to this. Negative attitudes or dismal outlooks manifest themselves in several ways. In this case, party one began to doubt whether mediation could solve this conflict and party two sought to escalate the conflict. Through reframing and restating. The DRC staff was able to re-channel this energy into seeking a speedy resolution to the case. It is interesting that through the back and forth communication between the two parties through a neutral mediator, this case was successfully resolved (in the eyes of both parties) with an intact landlord tenant relationship.

 

By APADRC CRS Intern Akilah Booty

The Simple Things

Sometimes what brings parties together for reconciliation can be found in methods previously thought too simple to be effective, or assumed to be understood already by the parties. In a recent case that I had dealt with, party one, Jessica, and party two, Samuel, had been stuck in the middle of a seemingly irreconcilable landlord/tenant conflict.

Jessica, the apartment tenant, had recently been suffering from drainage problems in her bathtub, and water continued to back up only after a few minutes’ worth of showering. Upon complaining to Samuel, Samuel contracted the issue out to a plumber who tried to solve the matter, but to no avail. When Samuel’s plumber attempted to solve the problem a second time, they opted to go to the apartments one floor down and to cut through the ceiling to obtain access to Jessica’s plumbing. As repairs were going nowhere, the plumbers decided to cut open the piping and extracted what apparently was a shampoo cap. Eventually, Jessica was charged a hefty amount for both the plumbing and the cost for repairing the cuts in the walls the plumbers made to obtain access to the piping.

Jessica was unwilling to pay the costs, and had initially contacted the APADRC in an attempt to either reduce the costs or to somehow get a complete waiver. From Jessica’s standpoint, the plumbing had backed up for absolutely no reason, and that she was being unfairly charged for everything. Samuel on the other hand, said that prior to renting out any apartment, they made sure to install drain grates to ensure that nothing would fall down the pipes. At the time of the repair, Samuel noticed that the grate had at some point been removed; thus, the shampoo cap that had fallen down had to have been Jessica’s fault, and Jessica wasn’t admitting this. Furthermore, Samuel said that under the initial apartment landlord/tenant contract that Jessica had signed, Jessica was supposed to be responsible for all costs related to repairs for physical damage. Therefore, Samuel stated that Jessica was legally responsible for all costs. However, Samuel complained that they were unable to get Jessica to understand this.

I contacted Jessica and relayed to her what Samuel had said, albeit in more neutral terms. Upon simply stating Samuel’s reasoning, explaining why Samuel came to the conclusion that they did, Jessica surprisingly stated that she did not realize that everything had been already spelled out in the contract, and that Samuel was not actually out to try to be purposely unfair to her. Samuel had been stating this all along, but Jessica was so convinced that Samuel was treating her unfairly that she had automatically blocked out anything Samuel had said. All it took was just a third party neutral to simply state the matter for Jessica to stop her claim and agree to pay the full amount that Samuel had requested.

With that mentioned, sometimes in these cases, it takes a neutral third person to explain the situation to both people and allow them to let it sink in. In this case, hearing the situation in a different voice was the simple solution they both needed.