Landlord/Tenant Disputes During COVID

Landlord/Tenant Disputes During COVID

Landlord/Tenant Disputes In COVID

The economic fallout from COVID-19 has resulted in many tenants unable to make rent payments to their landlords. Though for some there was an initial reprieve, states are starting to lift their moratoriums on evictions leading to uncertainty and anxiety. If you are a landlord or a tenant, you may be wondering whether you have any option instead of court? And if so, how your interests could possibly be protected in any other process? Commercial mediation can help. 

By Ehsan Ali and Alnoor Maherali

Most Americans spend nearly 40% of their take-home pay on housing expenses.  For millions of Americans that’s their single largest expense per month. Due to COVID-19, with state economies set to reopen and millions still unemployed, a ‘tidal wave’ of evictions is predicted once moratoriums are lifted. For tenants, this could mean losing their home - a fundamental point of security - and having to find new housing in the midst of the crisis. For landlords, this will mean losing tenants - many of whom were reliable prior to the crisis - and multiple apartments left empty that need to be re-rented.  That is, of course, if anyone is looking to move in during quarantine. As evictions rise, the effect of multiple apartments becoming and staying vacant will place a financial squeeze on landlords while tenants are stuck searching for a place to live.  

From this perspective, a surge of evictions and rent collection actions is not ideal for either landlords or tenants. Landlords looking to maintain apartment buildings while continuing to pay bills and mortgages are facing the difficult choice of whether to enforce rent payments or not. Tenants are feeling largely at the mercy of their landlords and are doing their best to prepare for the possibility of being forced from their homes. 

There is another option.  Commercial mediation offers the space for landlords and tenants to discuss their concerns and potentially come to a better arrangement.  Perhaps payments could be spread out over the course of the month or a portion could be deferred.  Non-essential services could be halted to offset lower rent payments or tenants could perform these tasks to ease the burden on landlords. Maybe the rent payment date could be changed to coincide with when tenants get paid. These are not the full scope of potential solutions, but they are options that (a) could be workable between landlords and tenants but (b) would be unlikely for a court to order. 

When an issue concerns dollars and cents, this can become the overwhelming focus of the discussion and other aspects of the conflict can be ignored.  But sometimes these factors are most important to finding a deal that works for everyone.  With Venn Mediation’s facilitative approach, no issues are excluded and our clients are in control of their own cases. They never have a decision forced upon them, so any deal they walk away with is one they are comfortable with or even no deal at all. If the process does not work, our parties can still pursue actions in court or via arbitration. That means the risk of initiating a mediation is low and the potential reward is high. 

So how does the process work?  At Venn Mediation, we provide a safe space for the parties to state their concerns, explore the issues, and propose solutions.  In time, our clients come to see that the problem is the situation rather than the person on the other side of the table. And they are pleasantly surprised with the creative solutions that become possible as they start to understand each other and begin to work on the problem itself.  Once a number of options are on the table, we work with our clients to see which could work.  Lastly, we bring the parties to an oral understanding of the agreement and/or put it in writing.   

In addition, our process does not have to be limited to one landlord and one tenant at a time. So long as all parties are open, a landlord can mediate with a group of tenants all seeking similar goals. Venn Mediation was founded to help in these difficult times and we are flexible in our response to your conflicts. And as we are proficient in online mediation, we can help you resolve your conflicts from the comfort and safety of your own home. 

In summary, the situation facing landlords and tenants in re-opening economies is a serious one. The predicted surge of eviction-proceedings is not ideal for either group, and commercial mediation can offer a better, faster, more creative alternative with greater flexibility. Disputes are never easy, but dispute resolution doesn’t have to be hard. If you find yourself in a landlord-tenant dispute, contact us about the specifics of your situation. We are based in New York but do online mediations as well. We would love to help.

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