By: Ken Pryor, Program Coordinator, Oregon Housing & Community Services, Manufactured Communities Resource Center
To anyone that owns or manages a manufactured home park, conflict is a given, a part of the landscape and as common as breathing. However, as familiar as we are with conflict, many might conclude the value of time invested in conflict pales in comparison to the value of the fistful of other urgent park duties and priorities. This short article is to remind park managers and owners of an inexpensive tool to help resolve conflict, build relationships and save everyone involved time and money. Of course I’m speaking of mediation, but before going further, allow me to assure you I am not coming from a hypothetical, altruistic, “touchy feely”, perspective. On the contrary, my personal back ground is that of a high tech international sales director (Sydney to Seoul) of more than twenty-five years, tempered by a Jesuit education, a degree in mathematics, wherein I came away with the knowledge, “the three strongest powers on earth are hubris, gun powder and compound interest”. Admittedly, left-brained, results oriented, and strong leanings toward the bottom-line, I can objectively testify to the value of mediation and its viability as an option you cannot afford to overlook.
To clarify mediation is not arbitration; there is no judge or single entity with the power to draw conclusions or propose solutions. Mediation is not a proceeding where one party wins and another loses. Mediation is the voluntary coming together of disputants to state and explore their positions, exchange ideas and with the assistance of an unbiased third party, to facilitate, the building of a solution that is contributed to and agreed to, by both of the parties in dispute. Again the parties in dispute arrive at a solution they mutually agree to. Mediation is not a court and the mediator is not a judge. No one is going to order anyone to do anything or decide what to do. The mediator is not there to do that. The mediator after interviewing (often over the phone) both parties will help each party better understand their interests/positions and options as well as the other party’s interests/positions and options. The mediator can help the parties understand their respective positions but all decisions are up to the disputing parties. Given not all of us are as articulate and calm under stress as we’d like, the mediator also acts as a gatekeeper and facilitator of dialog, insuring that all parties are heard equally and respected. If the parties decide on steps that they agree will resolve the situation the mediator will help them put their agreement in writing. Not all mediations come to conclusion/agreement; even if not, both parties go away with a better understanding of the other party’s perspective and the options that are available to the situation.
What’s in it for park managers and owners? Did I mention mediation is FREE? Residents support the cost of mediation through an annual $10 fee paid through their personal property taxes. Admittedly, mediation is an investment of time; however it’s far, less expensive, faster, and less adversarial than going to court. In hard dollars, it’s easy to appreciate the burden of attorney fees, court filing fees and investment of management time, to say nothing of the potential distraction and disruption of the park community. True mediation is a different type of problem solving but it is a proven process of dialog and communication, facilitated by a neutral third party. Mediators are expert at keeping people focused and on task, looking to the future, while simultaneously allowing parties (within reason) to express their opinion/vent. Mediation provides a structure for solution and relationship building. That structure insists on both parties creating the solution. During the course of mediation true interests/positions and often unstated needs are clarified. When necessary, gentle coaching by the mediator encourages parties to complete a thought and respectfully reveal typically unstated concerns all of which often fosters understanding not necessarily realized in the heat of the moment.
Another benefit of mediation is the parties aren’t necessarily strictly bound by law. Participants create their own solutions and it’s a known fact, people are more invested in and satisfied with resolutions they create themselves. Unlike court, where the judgements are usually monetary, mediation allows for a wide range of creative options that fit the unique needs of each party. Mediations are confidential; resolutions worked out are not part of the public record. Resolutions you make are confidential and not shared with other tenants. At the same time park managers/owners do not surrender any legal rights. Know too, in some Oregon counties, litigants must enter into mediation before a seeing a judge. In a tenant-on-tenant dispute a park manager (should s/he choose to intervene) is in a lose-lose scenario. Why spend time and effort refereeing a situation that will leave one party dissatisfied and potentially disappointed with park management too? In a landlord-tenant situation, why not engage an experienced, unbiased third party mediator to allow the creation of a solution of mutual agreement. Taking the authoritarian role and making a unilateral decision is not always the most efficient or ultimately timely solution. Keep in mind again, at no point, does management surrender its rights or the applicability of rental agreement or park rules. In the vast majority of cases (most recent MCRC statistics) 87% of mediation participants acknowledge greater respect for one another and a greater appreciation for the opposing point of view. Mediation builds communication skills among participants. People will surprise themselves with the creativity and empathy they have at their fingertips and within their neighbors. Problem solving can be very empowering. Your parks internal network will spread the word quickly that management encourages and trusts, honest open communications. You can’t buy that kind of empowerment, recognition and relationship building. And did I mention mediation is FREE?
Unless your park never experiences conflict and your park management have flawless interpersonal skills, you might want to consider mediation as an interpersonal skills tune-up. Mediation is not some, I’m OK; you’re OK, navel-gazing, new-age, pseudo philosophy. Mediation is an understated disciplined process, of fact finding, hearing (listening) and being heard, passage to introspection, solution building, and mutual respect. Hard-dollar wise you will have spared yourself attorney fees, court fees, and a boat load of time; even if your mediation doesn’t arrive at a successful completion you’ve invested minimal time, you will have a greater understanding of the situation and the experience has cost you next to nothing. Alternatively, participating in a successful mediation where both parties have arrived at a mutually agreed upon solution generates a special sense of completion of a job well done, clearing of the past and moving into the future where all parties know what is expected of them.
If you’re looking to maximize relationships and reduce time and fees, mediation expertise is a close as your nearest county Dispute Resolution Center or call MCRC for support.
If you would like to learn more about mediation contact:
Oregon Housing & Community Services
Manufactured Communities Resource Center