Guest blogger and college student Katherine Barnes recounts her story of acting as her own mediator in a landlord/tenant dispute.
Merriam-Webster defines mediation as “intervention between conflicting parties to promote reconciliation, settlement, or compromise”. Earlier this year, I had to serve as my own mediator while resolving various issues with my landlord in Oxford, Mississippi. Before I moved into my apartment, I was told by the apartment staff that I would be the only one leasing my particular unit. However, when I arrived at the apartment complex companionless, I was told that I was moving into a unit that was already occupied by one other tenant. I was unhappy with this information, as I was initially told that I would have the unit all to myself. Nevertheless, I hid my dissatisfaction and brought all of my possessions up to the apartment.
As soon as I hauled all of my belongings up three flights of stairs and opened the door, I was absolutely horrified. Half-eaten food littered all over the counters, bags of trash spilled out onto the floor, and clothes and junk were spewed everywhere. I immediately realized that I had to confront the staff at my apartment complex, as I could not bear to live in such a mess. I was disappointed and frustrated that I was completely led astray when signing my lease, a legally-binding contract. I felt a lack of respect from staff, because of my young age, and also feared that the staff members were taking advantage of me being young, alone, and defenseless.
Although I typically avoid confrontation, I calmly initiated a productive conversation with a couple of the managers at my complex and explained how the apartment was unfit for me to move into. The staff members encouraged me to move into the unit anyways, offering me gift cards and a cleaning service to eradicate the mess. While I appreciated the offer and their understanding, I was still extremely displeased with the situation. I voiced the importance of giving tenants accurate and timely information, said that I was completely misled with all of the information that I received prior to moving in, and mentioned that I was not comfortable moving into that particular unit.
Thankfully, one of the managers listened to all of my concerns and agreed to move me into a different unit. The unit was immaculately clean. However, I had to compromise about living alone, and I ended up sharing my living space with one other tenant. Overall, I was pleased with the situation and I actually enjoyed my roommate’s company. The managers at my complex promised that our unit would be privatized, and that no other tenants would be able to sign a lease for our unit. This verbal agreement provided me with a peace of mind for the time being.
Unfortunately for me, three months later I was told that another tenant would be moving into my apartment because “no other units were currently available”. Because of the first landlord-tenant issue that I experienced, I became slightly more comfortable with confrontation. It still wasn’t easy for me to be firm with people who had authority over me, but I had no other choice. I again expressed my discomfort with the staff at my complex and reminded them about our agreement to privatize the apartment.
Although I was frustrated to say the least, I remained calm to ensure that the conversation was productive. I voiced my empathy and respect towards the other tenant, while still standing up for myself and for what I had been promised three months prior. The apartment complex staff members apologized and respected my wishes. The other tenant was moved into a different unit, one that was not privatized. If I had not stood up for myself, I would have lived with two roommates after signing a lease with the intention of living alone. While it was not an easy situation to maneuver, I am happy with what I have learned from the experience. I now know the importance of compromise, communication skills, and standing up for myself.
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.