The Berkeley Rent Board Mailbag
Q. What is mediation?
Mediation is a process in which a mediator - a neutral third party - tries to help two parties fashion their own resolution of a dispute. The mediator does not impose a solution or make decisions for the parties. The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board is offering mediation to Berkeley tenants and landlords.
Q. How do I start the process?
The mediation process begins when one party submits a "Request for Mediation" form to the Rent Board. The form asks for the parties' general information and a brief description of the dispute. A mediation session can be scheduled as soon as a week from the request, provided the other party agrees.
Q. How does it differ from the petition process?
The Rent Board petition process is more formal and takes longer than mediation. After a petition is filed the other side has 20 days to object and, in most cases, a hearing is then scheduled. At the hearing, the hearing examiner focuses on gathering the facts through testimony and documents. The hearing examiner issues a decision that takes anywhere from a week to two months or longer, depending on the complexity of the case. The decision is limited to determining whether a rent ceiling reduction or other relief is warranted under the Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance. Parties must attend and participate in the hearing to protect their rights .
Mediation is voluntary and happens only if both parties agree. The mediator seeks to facilitate effective communication between the parties and focus on the desired outcomes of each party. The mediation can cover other tenancy issues in addition to rights under the Rent Ordinance, for instance, the landlord's right of entry. If an agreement is reached, the mediator will write it up as soon as possible - at the mediation, if practicable, but within a day or two in any case.
Q. What are the advantages of mediation?
Mediation is faster than the petition process and can cover a broader range of disputes. An agreement results only when both parties agree, so mediation tends to be a more satisfying experience. The spirit of cooperation required for mediation usually means more positive dealings between the parties in the future.
Q. Who will mediate?
The mediation will be conducted by a Rent Board counselor or hearing examiner, or by both together. They are well-versed in the Rent Ordinance and the regulations. In most types of mediation, the mediator will not give legal advice. In Rent Board mediation, the mediator may give the parties general advice about their rights and responsibilities under the Rent Ordinance.
Q. How should I prepare for mediation?
You should think about what you want to discuss and what's important to you. Use these questions to help you prepare:
- What are the most important points for me to have in an agreement?
- Why are they important to me?
- What is the best result I could hope for?
- What is the worst result that could happen?
- What would be a sensible, realistic and fair solution?
Q. What will happen in the mediation?
The parties will be asked to read and sign an "Agreement to Mediate." Each mediator will sign a "Mediator Statement ." The mediators will give each party a chance to describe the dispute as they see it, and to state how they would like to see it resolved. The mediators will seek to understand what is important to each party and encourage a settlement that is satisfactory to both. Where the parties have an ongoing relationship (for instance, the tenant still lives in the landlord's property), the mediators will strive to help the parties communicate better, so as to avoid future disputes.
Q. What if we come to an agreement, but the other party doesn't abide by it?
Mediated agreements have a high rate of compliance because the parties have worked out their own solution. But if a party reneges on the agreement, the other party is free to seek Rent Board remedies, if appropriate, or to enforce that agreement in court.
Q. What happens if we don't agree on anything, or agree just on some things?
The parties are free to pursue other avenues for issues that are not resolved through the mediation, such as the Rent Board petition process or court. Statements or offers made in mediation will not be admissible in a Rent Board or civil court proceeding. If a Rent Board hearing examiner conducts a mediation that does not result in an agreement, and one of the parties later files a petition concerning matters raised in that mediation, that hearing examiner will not be assigned to hear the case, unless the parties agree.
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