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  • Mediation: Encourage a Positive Working Relationship

    (November 2006) 

    If you were involved in a dispute with your tenant or your landlord would you welcome the chance to come up with a solution that builds a positive relationship? If so, Rent Control Board mediation might be for you.

    Mediation is a voluntary process where disputes can be resolved between parties quickly and amicably through the assistance of a skilled mediator. The Santa Monica Rent Control Board offers such a service in two circumstances:

    After a petition is filed: Mediation is offered when a petition is filed for lack of maintenance, loss of housing services, unreasonable construction impacts or for recovery of excess rent.

    When requested by an owner or a tenant: Mediation is also available when no petition has been filed, if the service is requested by tenants and/or owners who have a dispute about rent or maintenance.

    Like most other disputes, landlord-tenant disputes may arise due to miscommunication, lack of understanding, or because of change. Some of the advantages of using mediation to resolve landlord tenant disputes are that mediation:

    • Preserves a positive working relationship between the landlord and the tenant;
    • Avoids the need for a hearing that may be time consuming, more formal and possibly divisive;
    • Allows both parties to air their concerns in a neutral environment;
    • May provide solutions for future communication and “clear the air”;
    • Gives the landlord and tenant an opportunity to come up with joint solutions that meet both parties’ needs

    Mediation may be useful when a building is purchased. The new, well-intentioned owner wants to fix-up the building and make improvements in the common areas. Problems may arise when the owner does not communicate effectively with the tenants or is unaware of how the Rent Control law or State law affects those changes. The owner may not realize that proper notice is required before entering the tenants’ units or that the tenants are entitled to certain amenities. The tenants may be concerned about changes to their home and disruptions to the longstanding practices or “culture” of a building and may not know how to communicate their concerns effectively. Both parties have different perspectives and needs, but no place to safely discuss them. Mediation may be appropriate and helpful in this type of situation.

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    How Does Mediation Work?

    If an owner or tenant wants help resolving a dispute about maintenance, amenities, or payment of rent, he or she may request the assistance of a mediator. The best way to request mediation is to contact a Rent Control Information Coordinator (phone 310-458-8751). The Information Coordinator may be able to provide information to resolve the issue without mediation. If not, the Information Coordinator will then refer the matter to a mediator.

    The mediator will contact the other party to see if that party is willing to mediate and, if so, will set up a meeting. Mediations are held in a conference room at or near City Hall and usually last one to two hours. Sometimes the parties meet more than once or visit the unit with the mediator to look at conditions while they discuss them. Often, the mediator will continue to negotiate between the parties by telephone until resolution is reached. Sometimes the entire mediation is done by telephone conference call or with the mediator talking separately to each party.

    If the parties can resolve their issues, the mediator writes what has been agreed to in a Settlement Agreement. The mediator acts as a facilitator and does not have the power to decide the outcome of the dispute.

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    Mediation of Petitions

    When a tenant files a decrease petition or an excess rent complaint with Rent Control, the Hearings Department sends a notice to all parties scheduling a mediation. Participation in pre-hearing mediation is voluntary.

    If the parties decide to participate, the process is similar to that described above. A Board mediator facilitates a conversation between the parties to attempt to find a solution without having a formal hearing. If they can resolve all of their issues, the mediator writes a Settlement Agreement containing the terms of the agreement. Once the terms of the settlement are carried out, the case is over and no hearing is necessary.

    If the mediation does not resolve the entire case, the unresolved issues are heard before a hearing officer who issues a written decision.

    Under Board regulations and State law, nothing that takes place during mediation can be used as evidence at a hearing (or in a future court case) and the mediator cannot be a witness. This ensures that people will be comfortable in sharing ideas and making offers to one another during the mediation process.

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    Common Issues Mediated by Rent Control Board Staff

    Some common issues mediated include disputes regarding:

    -The correct amount of rent to be paid

    -Whether excess rent has been collected

    -The necessity for maintenance in the unit or the common areas

    -The manner in which maintenance is done

    -Access to the unit for maintenance

    -Whether a tenant is entitled to amenities such as storage, parking, recreation facilities, landscaping, carpet, appliances

    -Whether a tenant is entitled to have a roommate or to sublet the unit

    -The effects of construction at a residential building

    -Changes that occur when a new owner takes over a building

    -Necessity and value of relocation during repairs that affect the habitability of a unit or building

    The Rent Control Board does not usually mediate issues unrelated to the Rent Control Law such as disputes between tenants, neighborhood disputes, noise issues, family issues, or personal property damage. If it is determined that the disputes are unrelated to the Rent Control Law, it will be suggested that Dispute Resolution Services (DRS), a non-profit organization, be contacted at 323-930-1841 or 213-896-6533.  DRS provides a mediation service for many types of disputes.

    Owners and tenants who wish mediate a dispute may call the Rent Control Board offices at 310-458-8751 and ask to speak with an Information Coordinator.

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