BrickUnderground has learned that the New York City bar association will soon recommend that co-ops and condos require feuding neighbors to mediate disputes before filing a lawsuit.
“Co-ops are supposed to be places where people live in a cooperative manner,” says Eva Talel, who chairs the influential co-op and condominium committee behind the recommendation. “Mediation offers the potential to nip something in the bud and work it out before it becomes bigger than it really is. It also takes the board out of the middle.”
That last bit seems poised to be catnip for boards, who despite their meddling reputations generally loathe becoming involved in neighbor-on-neighbor conflict.
“We’ve developed a model provision requiring shareholders to mediate quality of life issues like noise,” says Talel. The provision, which she expects to become available on the association’s website later this month, would be incorporated into a co-op or condo’s house rules.
Mediation is non-binding, meaning neighbors can still sue each other if they don’t work things out.
Talel feels confident that many boards will adopt the mediation-first approach, starting with a broad swath of her committee members' own clients.
“Those of us on the committee represent a fair number of buildings and managing agents, and we would recommend it to our boards,” says Talel.
For those seeking mediation, the bar association keeps a list of professional mediators trained in co-op and condo law. The referrals are sorted by rate: Low (under $200 an hour), medium ($250 an hour) and high ($300+ an hour).
“We don’t give an opinion on who is right or wrong. We encourage parties to come up with their own opinions and resolution,” says Gail Davis, the co-chair of the bar’s Co-op and Condo Mediation Project.
“We use techniques such as reality testing,” she says. “’How would this look if you went to trial and what do you think a judge would decide—what are the strengths and weaknesses of your position?’”
Some cases resolve quickly in a just a few sessions, she says, and residents can bring along attorneys if they want to consult about the law.
Free mediation is also available through the Safe Horizon Mediation Centers in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Through its volunteers, who are typically not attorneys, the non-profit organization has mediated thousands of disputes between neighbors. (See Soothe your savage neighbor with (free!) mediation)