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Archive for the ‘Eviction Mediation’ Category

New Eviction Mediation Special Topic Offers Courts Guidance in Midst of Housing Crisis

Eric Slepak-Cherney, June 25th, 2021

Those of you familiar with Resolution Systems Institute will know that over the past year, we have been heavily focused on the rise in eviction cases in the aftermath of COVID-19. This evolving eviction crisis has begun to, and will continue to, test the capacity of our court systems in a way likely not seen since the foreclosure wave of the last decade.  RSI’s mission is to strengthen access to justice through court ADR, and with many courts looking at diversion efforts to address a surge in eviction cases, we see both significant opportunities and challenges ahead to ensure that participants receive due process.

We are thus very proud to share with you our new Eviction Mediation Special Topic. In the past, we have shared with you our Special Topics collections on subjects such as Child Protection Mediation, Community Mediation and Online Dispute Resolution, to name a few. These resources provide background on how court ADR programs address these cases, share insight into how to evaluate such programs and share relevant resources such as articles, evaluations and sample materials.

The Eviction Mediation Special Topic contains all of this information, with a slight twist. Due to the topical nature of this subject, we have prepared this resource in the context of the current crisis. Background information and certain resources are therefore presented with current events in mind, and we also have a section about key considerations we have learned thus far into the eviction crisis. Additionally, we have done our best to collect information on active court ADR eviction programs, captured in our Eviction ADR Across the Country database. We plan to update the Special Topic regularly as developments unfold, and new collective knowledge becomes available to the field.

We are sincerely grateful to the American Arbitration Association-International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation, whose generous funding has enabled us to create and share this resource.

In the Wake of COVID-19, Hawaii Legislature Passes Bill Requiring Mediation Before Eviction

Nicole Wilmet, May 28th, 2021

In April, the Hawaii legislature passed legislation to amend the state’s landlord-tenant code in the wake of COVID-19. The new legislation encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and modifies the landlord-tenant code in a few ways by: 

  1. Extending the deadline in notices of termination of a rental agreement from five days to fifteen days to allow time for mediation;
  2. Requiring landlords to provide a copy of the termination of a rental agreement which they serve to tenants to a mediation center that provides free landlord-tenant mediation; and  
  3. Requiring landlords to delay filing an action for repossession during the fifteen days after providing notice to the tenant to allow the tenant time to agree to or attempt to schedule a mediation.

The bill also implements several restrictions on when a landlord can exercise different remedies depending on the amount of back rent that is due and the timing in relation to the governor’s eviction moratorium. Finally, the bill notes that these amendments will be repealed one year after the governor’s final eviction moratorium expires, or on December 31, 2022, whichever is sooner.  Currently, the bill is awaiting signature from the governor. 

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.

Eviction Mediation Insights from Two Successful Programs

Jennifer Shack, May 5th, 2021

As efforts ramp up to address the impending eviction crisis, I thought I’d revisit studies of two existing eviction mediation programs (in Minnesota and St. Louis) that were published last year. These two very different programs were found to be effective in reducing evictions and provide insight into program design successes and challenges.

Study 1: St. Paul, Minnesota Housing Court

The first study explores the impact of changes made in 2018 to housing court in St. Paul, Minnesota. The changes appeared to reap dividends in term of fewer evictions and more settlements. The housing court changes included instituting a housing clinic to bring together financial services, legal services and mediation at the same place to help parties coming to their eviction hearings. Along with changes to court rules and forms, the clinic has had a number of positive outcomes for both landlords and tenants. Although increasing access to mediation was only one component of the changes to housing court, the overall concept employed by the St. Paul housing court is instructive to anyone currently involved in ADR and housing courts seeking ideas on how to address the upcoming wave of evictions due to COVID-19.

In “Justice Served, Housing Preserved: The Ramsey County Housing Court” (Mitchell Hamline Law Journal of Public Policy and Practice, 2020), Colleen Ebinger and Elizabeth Clysdale discuss the impetus for reform, the process for identifying and instituting needed changes and the results of those changes. The Chief Judge saw a need to make changes that would improve access to justice and bring together resources for tenants that would address the root causes of eviction. To that end, he sought the assistance of the McKnight Foundation and Family Housing Fund. They, in turn, asked the National Center for State Courts to facilitate the planning process. Other stakeholders who were included in the planning process included legal services, the local dispute resolution center, a lawyer who represented landlords, the county’s financial assistance program and the city’s housing department, as well as judges and court administrators.

The group agreed on three areas of action: implement a number of procedural changes, improve coordination among government entities, and expand access to mediation and legal services. Procedural changes included changes to forms, such as including information in the summons tenants receive about the eviction hearing that details the financial, legal and dispute resolution services available to them. In addition, the settlement form allows the parties to check that they had agreed to an expungement, which keeps the eviction from showing up in their credit history, and the court order was changed to include the possibility of immediate expungement. Further, if expungement was contingent on the tenant making payments, both parties were now allowed to file a notice of compliance with the payments, rather than just the landlord. This meant that the tenant had more control over whether the expungement was carried through.

Coordination among government entities was improved by providing office space in the courthouse for financial assistance workers representing two different funding agencies. This allowed them to work together and allowed tenants to apply to both at the same time rather than having to wait to be denied from one to apply to the other. In addition, the court began providing partner organizations information on all litigants on the calendar, which allows them to be more prepared to assist the litigants when they come to court.

To expand access to legal services and mediation, the court and partners agreed to have attorneys available for consultation at all hearings, as well as mediators, who would be particularly helpful in dealing with disputes that were not legal in nature. Further, the judge began promoting these services from the bench to ensure that all litigants knew about their right to access these resources.

After a year and a half, the court’s numbers appeared 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 just 10 minutes on average.

Anecdotally, the response to the changes to housing court has been positive. Judges reported that tenants were more prepared for trial, with a better understanding of the process and when and how to raise their legal defenses. Landlords, too, saw benefits from the changes. They said they appreciated having financial services at the courthouse. Financial assistance staff spent time with landlords and landlord attorneys, developing relationships with them that, Ebinger and Clysdale noted, bore fruit outside of the courthouse as well. For example, one of the services reported an increase in inquiries from landlords before they file an eviction, wanting to know if their tenants are eligible for emergency assistance.

Ebinger and Clysdale outlined six lessons learned from the program:

  • a collaborative attitude between partners is critical to success
  • small changes, such as a new check box on a settlement form, can provide big dividends
  • state law matters and can have its own impact regardless of changes made at the court level
  • financial service providers are better situated to solving emergencies than individuals left on their own to navigate social services
  • different circumstances require different interventions – some litigants will need legal assistance, some mediation and some financial assistance, thus each partner is necessary for the success of the program
  • as settlements increased, so did settlement failures (e.g., tenants failing to pay arrearages as agreed to in the settlement) – along with a higher rate of settlement agreements was a greater number of affidavits of non-compliance

This approach to eviction cases is similar to the successful approaches taken by many foreclosure courts in response to the housing crisis that began in 2008. In these programs, homeowners are offered an array of services (albeit usually not at the same time and not all at the courthouse) to help guide them through the court process and stave off foreclosure if possible.

While the data looks promising for this program, it is still early and more can be learned. It would be wonderful to know more from the tenants about their experience with the process and whether they feel they are being well-served.

Study 2: Eviction Mediation in St. Louis

The second study examines a decade-old eviction program in St. Louis County. Recent data collected from the program provides more evidence that mediation is an effective tool for eviction cases. The study found that mediation had a positive effect on outcomes and compliance, helping both landlords and tenants to maintain stability in income and housing.

In “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. Paul, Minnesota and St. Louis County eviction mediation programs are two of many recent programs that have been implemented around the country. The data indicating their effectiveness adds to the increasing evidence that such programs are successful at reducing evictions, thus providing stability to landlords, tenants and communities.

Illinois Supreme Court Issues Order Encouraging Use of ADR for Evictions

Nicole Wilmet, March 30th, 2021

For months, the U.S. has been preparing for an anticipated wave of evictions and foreclosures due to COVID-19. A recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) suggests that the amount of potential foreclosures and evictions the U.S. is facing is at a level that hasn’t been seen since the height of the Great Recession in 2010. In the report, the CFPB notes that, as of December 2020, 11 million U.S. renters and homeowners are significantly overdue on their regularly housing payments and are at risk of foreclosure or eviction. 

As I have previously reported, courts across the country have been preparing for this wave of evictions by exploring using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for eviction cases. In February, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an Order that authorizes and encourages Illinois courts to use ADR for eviction cases and establish Eviction Early Resolution Programs. The Order leaves room for courts to choose whether their programs will be voluntary or mandatory and select the type of ADR that their program will use. Additionally, the Order encourages circuits to allow parties meaningful opportunities to access various counseling services such as financial, housing and relocation services. Additionally, the Order encourages court programs to provide opportunities for unrepresented parties to obtain legal information or representation. To aid courts in developing their eviction programs, the Court highlights a collection of program resources that includes samples of Eviction Early Resolution Programs from both within Illinois and in other states (including Michigan and Texas).