March 24, 2021
One of the biggest challenges of the past year has been coping with a threat that can’t be seen. It can be even harder to see positive change when so much of our lives has moved online. But, our MWI team knows how mediation is a powerful solution to these problems. Even when you can’t go to court in person, you still have the chance to take control of a dispute and bring it to a real (not just virtual) conclusion. This is especially important for landlords and tenants going through eviction, where the result can mean that someone loses a roof over their head. I interviewed two of MWI’s most accomplished eviction mediators, Carol Kamm and Ed Wertheim, to hear their thoughts on mediating in the age of COVID-19. I learned that bringing landlords and tenants together is just as useful online as it is in person. Here are the highlights of my interviews:
Any mediator will tell you the benefits of resolving a case for yourself. This takes on a new meaning for online evictions. To some, it may seem pointless to look for settlement with a national moratorium on evictions. But the federal moratorium is set to end on March 31st, 2021, and landlords and tenants are going to have to start talking one way or another. Taking control of the conversation now can be much better than waiting for a mysterious court date. Carol Kamm told me that it can feel like “a boulder rolling off your shoulders.”
This is crucial for both landlords and tenants. Ed Wertheim pointed out that mortgages are still due when rent isn’t coming in. Similarly, it can be difficult for tenants to find housing while stuck in a dispute with their landlord. Especially in a pandemic, the consequences of income loss and homelessness are massive. Since they’re classified as “summary process” cases, eviction proceedings have little time to consider if someone will be left without support in the meantime. Unlike going to court, mediation helps both parties plan out their next steps with speed and foresight. Our mediators are there to assure that both parties walk away with a sustainable agreement.
Especially in eviction cases, parties are often short on money. This becomes a major problem in court proceedings when one party may end up having to pay an amount that they could never afford to begin with. When landlords and tenants talk face-to-face (or screen-to-screen), the conversation moves beyond just money. Our mediators can help you recognize the options you have for accommodating move-out dates, payment plans, or even lease changes. This is also a fantastic time for parties to talk about resources they may not have known about, like Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT).
The takeaway is that mediation has adapted well to the age of COVID-19. The stresses of the past year could have made it more difficult for people to come together and talk about shared problems. Carol Kamm and Ed Wertheim, however, have emphasized the opposite. They give great reasons why everyone, not just landlords and tenants, should consider mediation now more than ever.
The success of MWI’s virtual Court Mediation Program belongs to not only to its hard-working staff, dedicated volunteer mediators, and collaborative court partners, but also the generous financial support from Executive Office of the Trial Court and Massachusetts Bar Foundation.
This blog post was written by Nathanial Graham. Nathanial is currently a student, trained mediator, and Program Assistants as part of an internship at MWI.