Notice had been given, and this was a textbook eviction situation. The tenant had ignored the cloud on the horizon, and had stayed put, doing what she thought was right. I think she was just angry, because she did not see the increased rent as justified. The landlord was confident that the market would bear the increase. He was playing this as a business decision, cool calm and collected. He knew he could get the higher rent, either from this tenant or someone else.
We tried all the usual stuff in mediation: a bit of time for her to stay and pack; a bit of money forgiveness for past due rent; a payment plan, and a non-judgment deal, so she would not have the eviction on her record. These were all the moves you might see in any case. Landlord and tenant negotiated face to face, were civil, and they came a good bit closer, but no deals were made. Perhaps the tenant sensed some bond with the judge. She thought pleading to stay could best be done in court, and that she would be heard there. The judge was a woman too, and perhaps the tenant could not see her putting a mother and child on the street. The interpreter seemed good in trying to convey the emotion behind the tenant’s words, but nothing seemed to be getting back to her in the other direction. This was a stand on principle, and in retrospect it was perhaps not mediable.
The Judge was as thorough as the landlord, who was questioned quite closely on the witness stand. With every answer a door closed behind the tenant. We heard that the landlord had even used a translator and interpreter when the lease was signed, just to make sure the tenant understood the deal she was getting into. He was especially good at this business. He had doted every “i”, and crossed every “t.” This was slot machine law, and the machine was in working order.
The tenant had actually been quite engaged in the mediation, but she was speechless in the courtroom. She had no concept of the law or legal process. She thought she had power in the mediation and had stood her ground, but now she seemed deflated, and could not get her words out. She had been digging her heels on a point of principle that her rent should not be increased, but now she chose not to testify.
I’ve seen this in family cases too, when someone gets ordered to pay guideline child support that they just feel they cannot afford, or when a parent holds out against a persuasive child and family investigator’s report. The hope against hope strategy is not that effective.
In this case, I remember the utterly shocked look on the tenant’s face when the judge ordered her and her child to be out on the street in 48 hours. She had sub-tenants in the apartment, and they would be evicted too. The tenant began to speak, but it was too late. The slot-machine mechanics of the court’s findings based on the orderly testimony of the landlord had sealed her fate.
Court case related mediation is nearly always a matter of bargaining in the shadow of the law. When mediations fail, every once in a while I like to ground myself by going back into the courtroom, to see my former colleagues do their stuff. Every once in a while the unexpected happens, but that is a rare event. Usually the system works as expected.
This reality creates a useful place for evaluative mediation, when the parties are willing to be receptive, and to act on what they hear, before the hammer falls. Even the person who will win in court usually prefers the orderly detail that can be put into a negotiated solution. But then again, it sometimes just ends in a train wreck.