Participants in RSI’s Kane County, Illinois, Eviction Mediation Program continue to have an overall positive experience, recent surveys suggest, though tenants responding to the survey tended to rate the fairness of their mediator more highly than they rated the fairness of the process itself.
RSI implemented the mediation program in 2021 to mitigate the eviction surge precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to ongoing grant funding from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, RSI continues to administer and monitor the program.
The Survey and Respondents
RSI’s most recent survey report examines responses from participants in the 264 eviction mediations held in Kane County from March 1–June 30, 2023. After every mediation, participants were invited via email or text to complete an online survey about their experience. In all, 62 participants responded to the survey — 31 tenants, four landlords and 27 attorneys. A full report on the survey findings is available here.
The survey sought participant opinions regarding fairness, trust and satisfaction. Participants were asked to respond to the questions using a seven-point scale, which we consolidated into three categories: low (1-2), medium (3-5), and high (6-7). In addition, participants were sometimes invited to add comments to their responses.
We asked participants: How fairly did the mediator treat you? Their responses were largely positive, with 81% of respondents rating the fairness of the mediator highly. To explore more of their perceptions about the mediator, we also asked: How much did you trust the mediator? Their responses to this question also were positive overall, with 79% of respondents rating their trust of the mediator highly.
Turning more broadly to participants’ experience of the mediation process as a whole, we asked: Overall, how fair was the mediation process? Most of the participants who responded felt that the mediation was fair overall, with 73% saying it was highly fair.
Tenants on Mediator, Process Fairness
Interestingly, however, tenants tended to give the mediator higher ratings for fairness than they gave the overall process. For example, only 60% of tenants found the overall process fair, while 78% of tenants felt the mediator treated their side fairly. There was a similar, albeit smaller, shift observed in attorneys’ ratings, with 85% rating the mediation process as fair, compared with 89% who felt the mediator treated them fairly. We did not observe a similar trend in landlords’ responses.
We asked tenants to explain their overall fairness ratings. Their comments may shed some light on why some tenants rated the fairness of the mediation process lower than they rated how fairly the mediator treated them. Tenants who rated overall fairness highly focused on the clarity mediators provided them, describing mediators as “helpful,” “nice,” and going “above and beyond in making sure that I understood [and] felt comfortable.” Several tenants also appreciated having a voice and feeling respected, with comments mentioning being able to “tell [their] story of how [they] got to where [they were]” and saying that mediators “made [them] feel like an actual person and not just some case number.” In contrast, tenants that gave medium and low ratings on overall fairness tended to focus their frustrated comments on landlords, rather than the mediator or the program; for example, some tenants who gave medium ratings on overall fairness still referred to the mediator as “gracious” and “fantastic” in their additional comments.
Landlord, Attorney Perspectives
All four landlords gave a high rating for process fairness. The two who explained their answers praised the rental assistance program that RSI regularly refers tenants to and acknowledged the benefit of an objective mediator’s “fresh perspective.”
Attorneys who rated the overall fairness highly described the benefits of having a facilitated dialogue so that both parties can speak their minds and consider their options. The few attorneys who rated the process as medium or low on fairness were frustrated with specific mediator actions; one comment stated that the mediator was “disrespectful to the plaintiff in many ways,” including because of their “lack of knowledge and deference to the defendant.”
Likelihood of Recommending Mediation
In order to further explore participant satisfaction, we asked participants: If a friend or colleague had a dispute like yours, how likely are you to recommend eviction mediation? Most of the participants who responded were likely to recommend mediation to a friend or colleague, with 70% saying they were highly likely to recommend it. One tenant commented that “It would be an absolute mistake no[t] going through mediation. It is the best decision when going through this type of process.” Only four tenants were unlikely to recommend mediation.
Attorneys who were highly satisfied with the mediation process commented on the benefit of, as one said, “a solution that both sides had some part in reaching.” Meanwhile, an attorney who was less satisfied with the mediation process cited “partial” mediators as a negative.
Overall, the survey responses indicate that the program continues to provide a positive experience to participants. Those who completed the survey generally had very positive perceptions of the mediators and the program, with most giving high ratings on fairness, trust and satisfaction. Some participants’ comments point to a possible topics for ongoing mediator education.
For more background on RSI’s 16th Judicial Circuit of Illinois Eviction Mediation Program, serving Kane County, read our evaluation of the first full year of the program, Addressing Eviction Holistically, published in late 2022, or RSI Director of Research Jennifer Shack’s blog summarizing its findings.