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Wendy Reuer, Published May 19 2013

New mediation service aims to resolve rental disputes

FARGO – A new mediation service in the metro area aims to prevent landlord and tenant disputes from leading to court or eviction.

A mediation service for landlords and tenants was created by the Successful Outcomes for Tenants and Landlords Committee, which is made up of area landlords and representatives of housing agencies including Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership in Moorhead and the Southeastern North Dakota Community Action Agency in Fargo.

“It’s a need that has been identified in the community by a number of housing agencies and the SOFTLC was able to make it work,” said Colleen Murray, family and community services director at Lakes and Prairies.

The free service will allow tenants or landlords who agree to the process to settle disputes through mediation, which uses a third party to help negotiate or decide a settlement after hearing both sides of the case.

About a dozen volunteers underwent training earlier this year to act as a mediator, said Kala Anderson, self-sufficiency advocate for Lakes and Prairies.

“We are just piloting the service right now, and we started requests for mediation just a couple of months ago,” Anderson said. “We have not had mediation occur yet.”

Although no mediations have taken place, Anderson said it may help tenants avoid an eviction or court proceedings.

To apply for mediation, residents of Clay County can contact Lakes and Prairies.

Cass County residents can contact SENDCAA.

Anderson said the service is open to anyone, but priority will be given to low-income residents.

“It’s also based on time and availability (of the mediator),” Anderson said. “We wouldn’t be able to offer mediation for every single person who needed it.”

She said her agency tries to give a response to those pursing mediation within 48 hours. If a case proceeds, mediation is wrapped up in about seven days. Anderson said the quick action is needed in landlord/tenant disputes because eviction notices are often three days long.

Laurie Baker, director of the Fargo-Moorhead Homeless Coalition, said mediation has been a proven measure to avoid homelessness.

“Even if people don’t end up staying in the apartment, they can move without an eviction on their background check,” she said. “When they get that kind of black mark on their rental history it makes it very difficult for them to secure future housing.”

Although tenants can also settle disputes in court, lawsuits can be time consuming and costly, she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530