Pittsburgh, PA

Mediation for tenants and landlords is better and cheaper than court 

The Homepage, published by Hazelwood Initiative

By Juliet Martinez 

If you rent and have a problem with your landlord, it might feel like you do not have many options. Do you withhold rent and risk eviction? Pay for a lawyer? For renters in Allegheny County, there is another way. 

Just Mediation Pittsburgh is a free mediation service for renters and their landlords. Renters must be low- or fixed-income to qualify for mediation. If you rent and have problems with your landlord, you can contact Just Mediation. Their website is https://www.justmediationpgh.org/. Their phone number is 412-228-0730.

After calling, you will go through an intake process to identify your problems and needs. The intake specialist will contact the other party in the dispute to explain the process. At that point you may also find out about other resources like food banks or legal aid. 

Mediation is a completely voluntary process. No one is forced to take part.

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Renter rights and responsibilitiesCourtesy of Hazelwood Initiative, Inc.

If the other party agrees, a trained mediator schedules a virtual meeting. Most of their mediations are taking place online, but they can do them over the phone if necessary. The mediator schedules the meeting at convenient times for you and the other party.   

Just Mediation has had about 170 cases since launching in May, 2020. Aaron Erb is Just Mediation's Executive Director. He said 90% of their cases have reached a settlement both parties can agree to.  

Landlords and tenants create settlements together with the help of the mediator. Both parties then sign the agreement. The settlement agreement is binding and becomes part of the lease.  

The primary goal of Just Mediation is to help tenants avoid eviction. Eviction filings lead to housing insecurity, are traumatic, time-consuming and costly for tenants.  

Brenda Harris is Just Mediation's Media and Engagement Director. She said eviction is something everyone involved would prefer to avoid. It can cost landlords $5000 or more to evict a tenant. Besides court filing fees, they may also need process service and have to pay constable fees.  

“Once you've removed that tenant, it’s going to include the cost of rehabbing that [unit],” she said. It may remain vacant for months, and the landlord has to pay to list it so they can find a new tenant.  

Ms. Harris said it is best not to wait until the landlord-tenant relationship has fallen apart.  

“They don't have to be on the brink of eviction in order to come to us,” Ms. Harris said. “Frankly, I would encourage them to come before it's blown up to the point where you feel like that's your only recourse.” 

Mr. Erb said Just Mediation has positive relationships with many landlords. They gain this trust by being impartial.  

“We're not a tenant advocate program. We're not casting [the landlord] as the big bad wolf in the story.” Tenants need to have a reasonable place to live and landlords have mortgages to pay. “We're in the middle,” he said, “trying to provide a situation where both parties can get everything they need.”

Mr. Erb said sometimes tenants and landlords work things out before mediation. By talking about trying mediation, they might clear the air. "It kind of highlights how simple some of these miscommunications are,” he said.

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The Homepage is a print newspaper delivered monthly to households in Greater Hazelwood, Glen Hazel, Greenfield, Hays, New Homestead, Lincoln Place and The Run. Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., a community-based nonprofit, publishes The Homepage through a grant from the City of Pittsburgh and advertising revenue from local businesses and organizations. The mission of Hazelwood Initiative, as a community-based development corporation, is to build a stronger Hazelwood through inclusive community development. Sonya Tilghman, Executive Director of Hazelwood Initiative, Inc. (she/her) Juliet Martinez, Managing Editor of The Homepage (they/them) Sarah Kanar, Layout and Design of The Homepage(she/her)

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