Hate your neighbor (for a legit reason)? Read this post

Community Mediation Services had a remarkably upbeat presentation for county commissioners this week. Maybe dealing with all those unhappy people helps with perspective?

The two-decade old program was eliminated in late 2010 due to the city of Vancouver’s budget cuts but reinvented itself last year as a nonprofit agency that gets funding by contracting with the city and the county to settle landlord-tenant and neighbor disputes, as well as small claims cases.

“The need never went away,” for low-cost dispute resolution, said executive director Nancy Pionk. CMS now charges $10 a case. And fees are waived for those who cannot afford them.

The group has also started handling workplace disputes and does presentations for companies on conflict resolution.

So how well do they do?

In 2011, they received a total of 521 requests for service. Of actual disputes, the majority were landlord-tenant (232 cases), followed by neighbor-to-neighbor (157), small claims (23) and workplace (7).

All of the workplace disputes were successfully mediated, and CMS had an 88 percent success rate with both landlord-tenant and neighbor disputes. Small claims cases had a 54 percent rate. Pionk attributed the lower success rate to the fact that in the other types of cases, the parties are agreeing to go to mediation. In the small claims cases, the parties are being ordered to attend by a District Court judge.

Still, she said, there are stories of people settling their small claims case and using the ATM at the Clark County Courthouse to pay the prevailing party right then and there.

So what are the types of things people argue about?

Cases are confidential, but Vicky Ridge-Cooney, president of CMS’ Board of Directors, gave two examples to commissioners.

  1. Mr. X has an ill parent living with him and frequently calls the Clark County Sheriff’s Office because his neighbor, Mr. Y, has two teenagers who frequently have friends over and his ill parent can’t sleep. In mediation, Mr. Y learns about Mr. X’s ill parent and Mr. X, who doesn’t have children, learns how difficult it is to keep teenage boys quiet. They find some common ground and develop a mutual respect for each other, Ridge-Cooney said. Bonus for the county? Fewer non-urgent calls to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

  2. An older worker thinks her younger supervisor doesn’t respect her and doesn’t like her because when the older worker says, “Good morning,” the younger supervisor wouldn’t respond. As it turns out, Ridge-Cooney said, the younger supervisor just wasn’t a morning person. The older worker learned her supervisor’s morning moodiness wasn’t personal.

It sounds simple, she told commissioners, but in many cases people just aren’t communicating. The grudges build up over time.

Another case – one woman called CMS for advice before approaching her neighbor, whose hot tub has been keeping the woman up at night.

But the talk apparently didn’t go too well.

We’ll be setting that one for mediation, Pionk said.

If reading this post hits too close to home, don’t keep all that anger inside. Call CMS at 360-334-5862 or visit their website.

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