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Mediation Group Seeks to Help Landlords and Tenants Evade Evictions
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The City of Ketchum is offering free mediation through Neuro Meditation Grout to help prevent “scores” of tenants from losing their homes, said housing strategist Carissa Connelly.
   
Saturday, January 7, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Professional mediator Carol Barkes wants to prevent tenants from being evicted. And she wants to prevent landlords from having to file civil suits in court that in all likelihood won’t get them the payment they’re seeking.

Barkes, who was named the top neuroscience-based conflict resolution expert in the country by FOX News, is the founder of NeuroMediation Group.

That group was just given a $50,000 contract from the City of Ketchum and Blaine County to launch the Housing Mediation Project, a free mediation program that provides landlords and tenants with a way to resolve housing-related issues without pursuing an eviction in court.

“We have far more options available in mediation than a judge has in the courtroom,” said Barkes, an adjunct professor at the University of Idaho Law School, Boise State University and College of Southern Idaho. “In court a judge has to look at the evidence and, if the landlord is able to prove that the tenant is late in rent even one day, has to issue an eviction.

“In mediation, maybe we can come up with a payment plan or an exit strategy so if the tenant has to leave by a certain time there won’t be a judgment or eviction on their record.”

Barkes just handled a case where someone needed to move and had no option to pay their rent. Their landlord and they made an agreement that, if they vacated the premises by a certain time, the landlord would forgive their past due rent and give them a positive reference.

Had they been evicted, it would have gone on their record and could have made it difficult for them to secure housing in the future, Barkes said.

In another case, a renter couldn’t afford to pay the landlord all the past due rent. But they worked out a way for the renter to continue to make their monthly rent with a little extra added on until they catch up.

The likelihood of a property owner seeing a cash award ordered by a judge is just 37 percent, Barkes said. But payment arrangements negotiated in mediation are paid 93 percent of the time, thanks to repayment plans and timelines.

More and more Blaine County residents are facing eviction, thanks to increased demand for housing. Housing demands grew as the population grew by 5 percent rather than the historic 1 percent between 2019 and 2020. The population increase increased demand and pushed up home prices—and rent--above what many Wood River Valley residents are able to afford.

Roughly 63 percent of evictions are granted in Blaine County.

So far, NeuroMediation has been involved with nine different cases in Blaine County—five of which were  appropriate for mediation, said Barkes. NeuroMediation has been able to resolve all of the cases it’s worked on so far.

“If you go into mediation, it’s almost guaranteed you’re going to have to come out with a resolution. If you go into court, there’s a much lower percentage that landlords are going to see their money because they have to become their own bounty hunter,” Barkes said.

Carissa Connelly, Ketchum’s housing strategist, said that formal mediation could help stabilize or assist more than 90 households and landlords in Blaine County in the first year.

“The NeuroMediation Group possesses the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to execute a much-needed housing mediation program quickly and efficiently,” she added.

“Mediation is a neutral process,” stressed Leigh Barer, a certified professional mediator who serves on with the NeuroMediation Group and on the Idaho Mediation Association.

“Sometimes landlords don’t want to do mediation because they feel someone’s going to try to talk them into letting somebody stay longer,” added Barkes. “It’s not that at all. We’re a neutral third party that is trying to be as drama free as possible. We’re just helping two parties have a conversation about something. We make mediation a safe process for people to have conversations, and the mediator is charged with making sure everything is balanced and both parties are hearing one another. We’re not trying to talk anyone into doing something that doesn’t work for them.”

Barkes, who is president of the Idaho Mediation Association, became interested in helping people avoid homelessness through one of her board members who was involved in the issue. She started the mediation eviction program for Idaho Fourth District Court. Then she helped the Third District Court start one.

Now she works with Clark County in Las Vegas, which deals with more than 20,000 evictions a year.

“My advice to tenants that are struggling is to talk to people and reach out to people,” she said. “We can’t help if they don’t reach out.”

To learn more, visit https://www.neuromediationgroup.com/ Or, call 208-314-1330.

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