There was mold on the carpet
…and in the bathroom. The heater went out after the weather turned cold, and the monthly bill for the emergency heat cost almost as much as the rent. Christina Kewley was tired of waiting for the management company to make repairs, so she withheld the rent.
Commercial Property Management (who managed the house for the owner) held firm in its position. The tenants didn’t pay up so they would have to be evicted. Repairs would be made, but only after the rent was brought current.
“The mold is a health hazard, and I have a baby and a toddler. I can’t afford to wait for them to fix the heat. What else could I have done?” asks Kewley.
A court mediation failed so an eviction hearing was just a few days away. It appeared that Kewley would lose her home of four years, one in which she had invested quite a bit of her own money to make the home more livable.
Her roommate knew Ray Garcia, a board member at Help Now!, and described the situation to him. He suggested that Kewley call Help Now!
Within hours of Kewley’s initial contact, Help Now! Executive Director Larry Kahn called the owner of Commercial Property Management. Through previous matters involving CPM’s tenants, Help Now! and the company had established a good working relationship.
“Even though our clients often appear to be on opposite sides of the fence with local businesses, when we call on behalf of clients, the businesses typically recognize us and welcome our intervention,” Kahn explains. “We have been told that we are perceived as striving for a fair outcome.”
Here it was a classic standoff: the management company didn’t want to invest in repairs prior to the rent’s being paid because, in their experience, many tenants who get evicted trash their house on their way out. The tenant didn’t want to pay rent without assurance that the repairs were, in fact, going to be made.
“We couldn’t advocate on behalf of the client in this case because the matter was in litigation, and we would be crossing the line into doing legal work. What I did, instead, was to get the two parties to meet together and then facilitate a resolution of their dispute. In this situation, Help Now! would and could not negotiate on behalf either party in a way that looked out for that party’s interest exclusively,” Kahn says.
The strategy worked. Kewley agreed to pay the back rent, and the management company agreed to a schedule for completing a number of needed repairs, some of which have, by now, already been completed. Beyond that, the parties agreed to extend Kewley’s lease for an additional year once all repairs have been completed and with the rent frozen at its current level.
Both parties were so appreciative of Help Now!’s successful intervention that both offered to use their contacts with contractors for free assistance to a disabled Help Now! client who was in urgent need of repairs on his trailer’s leaking roof.
“People voluntarily helping and reaching out to others in need is what Help Now! is all about,” said Kahn after hearing the double offer. “It was gratifying to hear that solution come spontaneously from both parties.”
“On the way to the elevator after our settlement, I was talking to the woman from the management company,” says Kewley. “We got along just fine.”