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Most Give High Ratings for Mediator Fairness, Trust in Mediator in Recent Surveys of RSI’s Kane County Eviction Mediation Program

Jasmine Henry, January 10th, 2024

RSI administers an eviction mediation program in Kane County, Illinois. Every quarter, we provide a report to the court on the participants’ experience in mediation based on their responses to a post-mediation survey.

Between July 1, 2023, and September 30, 2023, 174 eviction mediations were held in the 16th Judicial Circuit of Illinois (Kane County). After every mediation, participants were invited via email or text to complete an online survey about their experience; not all of the participants completed surveys. In our latest survey report, we examined participant responses from those three months. Specifically, we focused on participant opinions regarding fairness, trust and satisfaction. In all, 21 tenants, one landlord and 11 attorneys responded. The participants responded to the questions according to a seven-point scale, which we consolidated into three categories: low (1–2), medium (3–5), and high (6–7). Participants were invited to add comments to some of their responses. Their responses are summarized below.

Trust in Mediator, Perceived Fairness

We asked respondents about their perception of the mediator. Specifically, we asked: “How fairly did the mediator treat you?” And, “How much did you trust the mediator?” Almost two-thirds of participants gave high ratings for mediator fairness and trust. However, respondents tended to rate mediator fairness higher than mediator trust. For example, fewer than 3% of respondents thought the mediator did not treat them fairly, while 15% of respondents had low trust in the mediator. There was a parallel, albeit smaller, difference observed in the positive ratings, with 63% of respondents rating the mediator as very fair, compared with 58% who had high trust in the mediator.

Turning more broadly to respondents’ perception 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 62% saying it was highly fair. Notably, this is very similar to the percentage of respondents who said the mediator was highly fair. Not all of the respondents were impressed with the process, and 10% of respondents rated the mediation a little fair or not at all fair.

Tenants who rated overall fairness as high focused on the clarity mediators provided them, describing mediators as “helping” and “kind.” An attorney who rated overall fairness high also emphasized the mediator’s “sympathetic demeanor.”

Comments of Tenants, Attorneys

We asked respondents to explain their overall fairness ratings. The landlord did not comment, but many tenants and some attorneys did. Tenants who rated overall fairness as high focused on the clarity mediators provided them, describing mediators as “helping” and “kind.” An attorney who rated overall fairness high also emphasized the mediator’s “sympathetic demeanor.” A quarter of the tenant comments mentioned court-based rental assistance, which tenants were often referred to by the program. Several tenants also saw the mediators as helping, saying, “They stood up for me … They didn’t let [the landlord] push me,” and “[We asked] for what we wanted and [the mediator] basically fought for us to get it.”

In contrast, tenants who gave medium and low ratings on overall fairness tended to focus their frustrated comments on the mediator’s relationship with the landlord. One tenant said the mediator “may have been more partial to the landlord” because they “were familiar with one another”; another tenant said plainly that “they are there to mostly help the landlord.” One tenant felt frustrated that the mediator did not seem to believe what the tenant said at mediation, saying, “The mediator seemed to take what I had to say about the situation with a grain of salt.” Attorneys who rated the overall fairness at a medium or low level focused on efficiency, with one saying, “I was disappointed that the mediator allowed the opposing side to spend valuable time on issues irrelevant to the case.”

Likelihood to Recommend Eviction Mediation

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 67% saying they were highly likely to recommend it. One tenant commented, “I would recommend all mediation options; sometimes tenants are unaware of the resources available due to lack of communication or shame.” However, another tenant who was less satisfied with the process commented, “It doesn’t help the tenant. At all. It helps landlords.”

As was the case with the first question on participant satisfaction, the landlord did not comment on their responses to this question, but we did receive two attorney comments. One attorney who was highly satisfied with the mediation process commented, “We made the exact same settlement offer that was accepted at mediation to the landlord’s attorney months ago, and they never responded in any way despite multiple phone calls. I assume this was on their client’s instructions. Because of the mediation process, I believe they would have continued stonewalling us.” The attorney who was unlikely to recommend mediation to a colleague said: “The lengthy mediation process is not helpful in my view. Before this system was implemented, and still now (in other counties), I am often able to reach agreements with the tenants within 5–10 minutes in the hallway outside the Courtroom. There is no need for the mediator, in my opinion.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, the survey responses indicate that the program continues to provide a positive experience to most participants. Those who completed the survey generally had positive perceptions of the mediators and the program, with the majority giving high ratings on fairness, trust and satisfaction. However, some participants’ comments point to a perception among tenants that mediators are biased toward the other side and a perception among attorneys that the mediation process is not efficient.

RSI Report Examines N.H. Eviction Mediation Program: Agreement Numbers Hold, but More Tenants Move Out After Rental Support Ends

Jasmine Henry, December 13th, 2023

RSI recently completed an evaluation of New Hampshire’s statewide Eviction Diversion program. Begun in 2021, this voluntary program provides landlords and residential tenants the opportunity to mediate before a landlord/tenant eviction case is filed. We were asked to evaluate program use, mediation agreement rates, and the time from initial contact to case closure. The evaluation period ran from October 1, 2022, through August 31, 2023. We found overall that the program was successful at reaching landlords and tenants around the state, as well as at helping tenants and landlords to avoid eviction. The program was efficient as well.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels

The program process almost always begins when a tenant calls the court’s central phone line, although sometimes the landlord initiates contact and sometimes parties email the program directly. If the party calls the court’s central phone line, a staff member collects a summary of the party’s needs and emails the information, along with the person’s contact information, to the case manager/mediator. The case manager/mediator then contacts the landlords and tenants, conducts intakes, and schedules and conducts mediation. She also provides other assistance, such as a list of resources and referral to legal services.

Participation and Outcomes

During the evaluation period, 775 tenants or landlords reached out to the court about the eviction mediation program. Some reached out more than once, leading to 800 individual inquiries, 90% of which were from tenants. Of the 800 cases in which an inquiry with the Eviction Diversion Program was made, 176 (22%) were mediated.

We had final outcomes for 175 of the 176 mediations. Of these 175 mediations, 125 (71%) ended in an agreement and 50 (29%) ended without an agreement. The parties were more likely to agree to the tenant remaining in the rental than they were to agree to the tenant moving out: 63% of agreements were for the tenant to stay, while 37% were for the tenant to move out.

Results After Rental Assistance Ends

Housing agencies stopped accepting rental assistance applications at the end of October 2022 and stopped processing applications at the end of 2022. Somewhat surprisingly, this did not lead to a drop in agreements. The percentage of mediations ending in agreement rose from 68% before rental assistance ended (25 of 37 mediations) to 72% (100 of 138 mediations) afterward. However, the end of rental assistance did lead to a smaller proportion of agreements allowing tenants to stay. In October and November, 21 of 23 (91%) agreements were for the tenant to stay. This dropped to 4 of 9 (44%) in December, and 52 of 91 (57%) for the first eight months of 2023. Overall, 56% of mediation agreements after the end of rental assistance allowed the tenant to stay.

Tenants were offered the option to mediate by phone or by video. They overwhelmingly chose to mediate by phone: 157 of the 162 mediations for which we had data were conducted by phone. Only five tenants selected video mediation.

Mediations in general were conducted within a month of the tenant or landlord’s initial contact with the program. Almost two-thirds were closed within two weeks and only 11% took more than 28 days to close.

Recommendations

Based on our findings, we recommended that the program continue. It is well used and effective in helping tenants and landlords reach agreement. It has also been efficient, mediating cases quickly. We also recommended the court continue to give tenants the option to mediate by phone or video. This increases self-determination, and each method offers benefits. Phone mediation, for example, reduces the risk of a power imbalance caused by one party having a better grasp of technology or access to better technology, while video mediation offers the opportunity to exchange and view documents.

81% Rate Fairness of Mediator Highly in Survey of RSI’s Eviction Mediation Program

Jasmine Henry, August 21st, 2023

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.

Conclusion

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.

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