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Archive for the ‘COVID-19’ Category

Announcing RSI’s National Eviction ADR Project

Eric Slepak-Cherney, May 27th, 2021

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly impacted American society in ways that are still playing out. The fallout from a public health standpoint was tremendous and its consequences rippled into almost every aspect of society. Chief among the impacts was significant economic contraction, as  a staggering number of individuals suffered reduced or lost income as a consequence of layoffs, reduced hours, contracting the virus, or caring for loved ones who had.

Unable to afford their monthly rent, tens of millions of Americans have found themselves at risk of eviction. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Centers for Disease Control instituted moratoriums on eviction, though each had some gaps. (The CDC moratorium has been vacated by a federal ruling. As of the writing of this blog post, that decision is being appealed and the moratorium remains in place for now).

Along with these federal protections, many states and localities enacted their own, generally more comprehensive, moratoriums. Approximately one-third of states still have an eviction moratorium on the books. However, for other jurisdictions, eviction proceedings not precluded by federal moratorium have resumed, and courts in jurisdictions where there are state or local moratoriums are expecting a significant surge of cases when those are lifted.

To address this uptick in cases, many courts are turning to mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. Subscribers to our monthly newsletter, The Court ADR Connection, are no doubt aware of various programs that have arisen in recent months. We have been diligently trying to capture and report on these efforts in an attempt to provide our core audience of court ADR professionals with information about how others are navigating this unprecedented situation.

To that end, we are excited to announce our new eviction ADR resource sharing project. Thanks to the generous funding of the American Arbitration Association-International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation, RSI will be able to share resources, guidance and our expertise with a national audience. In the coming weeks and months, we will be rolling out a series of resources we hope will help inform and mobilize the field to more effectively serve disputants and hopefully assist landlords and tenants in avoiding eviction.

These resources include our Eviction Mediation Special Topic, which will share program development insights; house sample documents like court rules, surveys and mediation notices; and even include a living database in which we have been collecting data on known eviction ADR programs nationwide. We also will be publishing a monthly blog series on our experiences developing a new mediation program based in Kane County, Illinois and collaborating with others across the country on eviction ADR. Finally, we will also conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the Kane County program’s first year, and publish it on our site, alongside smaller reports about the program’s implementation and quarterly progress, to contribute to the existing body of knowledge regarding ADR’s efficacy in resolving these disputes.

The Covid-19 crisis was unexpected, but now many courts are expecting or already experiencing eviction crises. To help court ADR programs meet these challenges, RSI is providing a robust mix of expertise, data, analysis and research, as well as sample forms, rules, videos and websites.We are grateful to the AAA-ICDR Foundation for enabling us to do this work. 

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly impacted American society in ways that are still playing out. The fallout from a public health standpoint was tremendous and its consequences rippled into almost every aspect of society. Chief among the impacts was significant economic contraction, as  a staggering number of individuals suffered reduced or lost income as a consequence of layoffs, reduced hours, contracting the virus, or caring for loved ones who had.

Unable to afford their monthly rent, tens of millions of Americans have found themselves at risk of eviction. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Centers for Disease Control instituted moratoriums on eviction, though each had some gaps. (The CDC moratorium has been vacated by a federal ruling. As of the writing of this blog post, that decision is being appealed and the moratorium remains in place for now).

Along with these federal protections, many states and localities enacted their own, generally more comprehensive, moratoriums. Approximately one-third of states still have an eviction moratorium on the books. However, for other jurisdictions, eviction proceedings not precluded by federal moratorium have resumed, and courts in jurisdictions where there are state or local moratoriums are expecting a significant surge of cases when those are lifted.

To address this uptick in cases, many courts are turning to mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. Subscribers to our monthly newsletter, The Court ADR Connection, are no doubt aware of various programs that have arisen in recent months. We have been diligently trying to capture and report on these efforts in an attempt to provide our core audience of court ADR professionals with information about how others are navigating this unprecedented situation.

To that end, we are excited to announce our new eviction ADR resource sharing project. Thanks to the generous funding of the American Arbitration Association-International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation, RSI will be able to share resources, guidance and our expertise with a national audience. In the coming weeks and months, we will be rolling out a series of resources we hope will help inform and mobilize the field to more effectively serve disputants and hopefully assist landlords and tenants in avoiding eviction.

These resources include our Eviction Mediation Special Topic, which will share program development insights; house sample documents like court rules, surveys and mediation notices; and even include a living database in which we have been collecting data on known eviction ADR programs nationwide. We also will be publishing a monthly blog series on our experiences developing a new mediation program based in Kane County, Illinois and collaborating with others across the country on eviction ADR. Finally, we will also conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the Kane County program’s first year, and publish it on our site, alongside smaller reports about the program’s implementation and quarterly progress, to contribute to the existing body of knowledge regarding ADR’s efficacy in resolving these disputes.

The Covid-19 crisis was unexpected, but now many courts are expecting or already experiencing eviction crises. To help court ADR programs meet these challenges, RSI is providing a robust mix of expertise, data, analysis and research, as well as sample forms, rules, videos and websites.We are grateful to the AAA-ICDR Foundation for enabling us to do this work. 

To stay up to date with all these efforts, and the other work RSI is doing, please make sure you are subscribed to our newsletter. We also welcome our court ADR colleagues to reach out to us with information about your eviction ADR programs.

Research Year in Review

Jennifer Shack, December 18th, 2020

The past year we focused on research that related to the times we’ve been experiencing. With courts going online and an expected surge in evictions on the horizon, I turned my attention to those topics, summarizing research on online dispute resolution (ODR) and presenting outcomes from housing mediation programs. 

Online Dispute Resolution

In March, I rounded up the research to date on ODR. A study in the Netherlands found that participants in ODR for divorcing couples perceived the process to be fair, with procedural fairness, interpersonal justice and informational justice all given high marks. On a scale of 1 to 5, they had averages of 4.27, 4.5 and 4.19, respectively. The participants’ perception of the outcome was also positive, though to a lesser extent than for the procedure. They gave an average of 3.91 for distributive justice, 3.37 for restorative justice, 3.18 for functionality and 3.0 for transparency.

A small study of a pilot small claims ODR program had less positive results. It found that 47% of cases reached agreement. The 18 parties who responded to a survey had some issues with the technology, with only 47% saying the technology was easy to use. In addition, only 53% were satisfied with their experience and only 23% felt the outcome was fair.

In the round up, I also summarized research about the potential advantages and disadvantages of using video-based and text-based ODR in cases with a history of intimate partner violence or abuse (IPV/A). The researchers suggest that mediators on IPV/A cases must carefully consider a variety of potential issues including the parties’ suspicion of mediator bias, confidentiality concerns, and victim-perpetrator power dynamics. 

While others in 2020 wrote about the possibilities for ODR, Jean Sternlight examined some of its weaknesses. Her article explored online dispute resolution (ODR) through the lens of the psychology of dispute resolution, focusing on four different areas: the psychology of perception and memory, the psychology of human wants, the psychology of communication, and judgment and decision making. She concluded that ODR may not be the best tool to assist individuals in creatively working things out with a fellow disputant and may be better employed for small and predictable disputes, like small online purchases.

An RSI survey found that the COVID pandemic has led most states to adopt video mediation for family cases. Others are moving forward with formal ODR platforms. Despite the increased availability of online services, almost half of the states that responded to the survey said there was an unmet need for family ODR and that funding was the main requirement for meeting that need. 

During the past year, we also learned about how to design ODR platforms from a study of Utah’s small claims platform, and were given tips on researching the impact of ODR on access to justice. 

Eviction Mediation

Two articles published in this year discussed programs in Minnesota and Missouri to help landlords and tenants avoid eviction. The results of these programs indicate that they help keep evictions off tenant credit histories and reduce forcible evictions. 

In St. Paul, Minnesota, the court instituted multiple changes to its housing court, including expanding access to mediation and making it, along with financial and legal resources, available at the court during eviction hearings. After a year and a half, the court’s numbers appear to show an improvement in outcomes. The court has a goal of reducing evictions by 50% in five years. In the first 18 months, evictions declined by 8%, to the lowest eviction rate in 10 years. Settlements increased by 5%, to the highest rate in five years. The impact was highest on expungements, which doubled. On the other end, fears of increased trial numbers and longer court calls didn’t come true. The number of trials as a proportion of cases declined and court call length increased by 10 minutes on average.

In St. Louis, in a voluntary program for cases in which neither landlord nor tenant is represented, 71% of mediated cases resulted in a settlement in 2018. The terms of more than half of these agreements were completed, resulting in a dismissal. One-third of agreements resulted in a consent judgment for eviction against the tenant and 25% resulted in the sheriff executing the judgment through forcible removal of the tenant. Cases that went to trial, on the other hand, were significantly more likely to end in eviction. Consent judgments were entered against tenants in 92% of these cases and resulted in forcible removal in 40%. The authors extrapolate from that data that 279 families avoided eviction in 2018 by settling in mediation and completing the terms of their agreement rather than going to trial.

Family ADR

Studies of family ADR programs continue to demonstrate the benefits of helping parents to resolve their issues outside of court. 

In Anchorage, Alaska, an Early Resolution Program (ERP) for family cases reduced time to resolution, reduced staff time spent on cases and had no impact on the number of post-disposition motions to modify, according to a recently completed evaluation. The study found that 80% of the parties who participated in ERP reached agreement in a three-hour hearing. Unsurprisingly, ERP cases reached disposition more quickly, with a median of 42 days as compared to a median of 104 for cases in the control group. The program also led to significant time savings for staff. For cases undergoing ERP, there were 28 to 30 processing steps, taking a total of 240 minutes (4 hours). The number of steps for the average non-ERP case was 49, taking a total of 1,047 minutes (17.45 hours).

study of parenting time mediation in Massachusetts found multiple benefits for parents and families. In surveys, parents said that conflict between them and the other parent was diminished in about 2/3 of the mediations. This benefit appeared to last for weeks after mediation for many parents, as 53% of those who were interviewed said that conflict continued to be reduced. Similarly, more than 2/3 of surveyed parents reported greater civility between them and the other parent. Again, this benefit remained over time, with 50% saying that they and the other parent treated each other with greater civility. Most parents also said that their communication had improved, with 72% of those surveyed saying so and 54% of those interviewed weeks later agreeing.  

Litigant Perception Research

Litigant attendance at a dispute resolution process impacts their assessment of the fairness of that process, according to research conducted by Donna Shestowsky. Shestowsky found that when litigants attended a settlement procedure used to resolve their case, they rated that procedure as fairer than those litigants who attended an adjudicative procedure. However, when litigants did not attend the procedure used to resolve their case, they saw settlement and adjudicative procedures as similarly fair. When comparing attendance within procedures, she found that attendance did not affect fairness ratings for settlement procedures, but that those who attended an adjudicative procedure rated the procedure as less fair than those who did not attend the procedure.

I wish you all a happy, safe and healthy holiday season!

Illinois’ Cook County Launches New Legal Aid Program for Housing and Debt Cases

Nicole Wilmet, December 17th, 2020

Illinois’ Cook County has launched a new initiative aimed at helping resolve eviction, foreclosure, debt, and tax deed issues. The initiative, entitled Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt (“CCLAHD”), provides Cook County residents and landlords access to legal assistance, counseling, case management and mediation services. The CCLAHD initiative comes as a result of a partnership between the County, Cook County Circuit Court, the Chicago Bar Foundation and a variety of community partners including Coordinated Advice & Referral Program for Legal Services (“CARPLS”), the Center for Conflict Resolution, Center for Disability and Elder Law, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, Greater Chicago Legal Clinic, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, Legal Aid Chicago and Legal Aid Society. 

The new CCLAHD initiative is currently operating its first program, the Early Resolution Program (“ERP”) and expects to start several more. Under the ERP, pro bono services will be offered to Cook County residents without legal representation including (1) tenants facing eviction, (2) landlords dealing with an eviction, (3) debtors being sued for unpaid debts, (4) creditors suing on the basis of unpaid debts and (5) residents who have defaulted on property tax payments or mortgage foreclosure payments. News outlets report that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has indicated that there will also be a tax deed specific program that will launch sometime in 2021. Those interested in learning more about the ERP or volunteering may visit the CCLAHD website. 

Delaware Begins Using ODR to Work Through a Backlog of Landlord/Tenant Cases

Nicole Wilmet, November 24th, 2020

As a result of COVID-19 and various moratoriums on evictions, Delaware’s Justice of the Peace Court is facing a backlog of landlord/tenant cases. In an effort to address this backlog, the Court recently announced that on November 2, 2020, all landlord/tenant cases filed on or after July 1, 2020, would be automatically referred to a new online dispute resolution (ODR) program. Delaware’s new ODR program operates on the Matterhorn platform and is free for parties. Participation in the ODR program is mandatory, provided the parties have an active email address, have access to the internet and are at least 18 years old. 

Through the ODR platform, parties will be able to review and respond to messages from the other party at their own convenience. The goal is for parties to utilize the ODR platform and find ways to resolve their disputes on their own. However, parties will have the option to access a mediator in the event that either (1) the parties are unable to reach an agreement on their own or (2) the parties do reach an agreement on their own but prefer to have a mediator prepare their agreement. In a Frequently Asked Questions resource from the Court, the Court notes that the mediators for the program are either specially trained Justice of the Peace Court Judges or members of the Delaware Bar Alternative Dispute Resolution section. 

In an effort to further assist parties, the Court has created ODR “How to” registration videos for landlords and for tenants. Those interested in additional information on the program may visit the Court’s website

Eviction Mediation in St. Louis Significantly Reduces Evictions

Jennifer Shack, November 23rd, 2020

As the eviction crisis looms, a number of courts around the country are implementing mediation programs. Data collected from a decade-old program in St. Louis County provide more evidence that these new programs are likely going to be effective. Mediation there was found to have a positive effect on outcomes and compliance, helping both landlords and tenants to maintain stability in income and housing. 

In a recent article, “Addressing the Housing Crisis Through Mediation” (Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, 2020), Karen Tokarz, et al, discuss how the program works and the benefits that have accrued to participants. The Washington University School of Law Civil Rights & Mediation Clinic developed the program in partnership with Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council more than a decade ago. In 2012, mediators affiliated with United States Arbitration & Mediation joined clinic students in providing free mediation services for landlord-tenant cases in which neither side has a lawyer. Originally opt-in, the program was made opt-out in 2018. 

The mediators for the program – lawyers and students alike – attend a training that includes an overview of housing law in St. Louis County, mediator ethics, mediation strategies and agreement drafting. The mediators must observe at least two mediations, co-mediate at least two mediations, and be shadowed for at least two mediations before they begin mediating independently. Mediations are conducted on the first court date for the case, which is generally the trial date.

The program uses two agreement forms that are completed as a part of each mediation agreement. The first, the conditional continuance, lays out the settlement terms. This document continues the case while the parties comply with the terms and notes that if the terms are satisfied, the case will be dismissed. It also notes that if a party breaches the terms of the agreement, the other party may file a consent judgment. The consent judgment is the second form that is completed during the mediation.  It typically grants possession and the full rent owed to the landlord. Should the case come back before the judge to sign the consent judgment, the judge uses both documents to determine whether to do so. The judge may decline to sign if, for example, the landlord has not made repairs agreed to in the conditional continuance. 

The program has been successful. In 2018, 71% of mediated cases resulted in a settlement. The terms of more than half of these agreements were completed, resulting in a dismissal. One-third of agreements resulted in a consent judgment for eviction against the tenant and 25% resulted in the sheriff executing the judgment through forcible removal of the tenant. Cases that went to trial, on the other hand, were significantly more likely to end in eviction. Consent judgments were entered against tenants in 92% of these cases and resulted in forcible removal in 40%. The authors extrapolate from that data that 279 families avoided eviction in 2018 by settling in mediation and completing the terms of their agreement rather than going to trial. It must be noted, however, that the two groups of cases – those that mediated and those that did not – are not similar. Mediated cases, as mentioned above, were limited to those in which neither side had an attorney. Those cases that went to trial included those in which at least one party (generally the landlord) had an attorney. 

The authors note that the impact of the eviction mediation program is limited due to its focus on cases in which neither party is represented and the day-of-trial mediation format. Further, growth is difficult due to the limited number of mediators available. They point to four directions the program can take to widen its impact. The first direction is to offer mediation prior to the first court date, or even before the eviction is filed. This would require greater outreach to landlords, tenants and government agencies to ensure that landlords are on board, tenants know about the program and agencies can urge its use. The second direction is to fund the program so that it can be sustained at a broader scale. Third, the program could be expanded to Municipal Court, where housing and building code enforcements are handled. Landlords and tenants are often unrepresented in this court and mediation in this context could lead to housing improvements and stability. The fourth direction would be to adopt online dispute resolution, allowing mediations to occur during the pandemic.  

The St. Louis County eviction mediation program is one of many recent programs that have been implemented around the country. The data indicating its effectiveness adds to the increasing evidence that such programs are successful at reducing evictions, thus providing stability to landlords, tenants and communities.