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State Offers Mediation to Landlords, Tenants in Discrimination Disputes

Housing officials hope the free program will bring complaints to a quick and peaceful end. Government savings are expected.

June 10, 2003|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

The state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing now offers tenants and property owners throughout California an opportunity to resolve housing discrimination complaints through mediation.

The mediation program, which begins this month, is free to both parties and is expected to be a quick, cost-saving alternative to a formal department investigation or civil court litigation.

"Mediation is an attractive option for parties on both sides of a dispute," Dennis Hayashi, director of the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said in a statement. "It brings people together in a way that lets them address the underlying issues at the root of the problem and decide the outcome of the complaint, given their unique situations."

Each year, the state's employment and housing department files between 800 and 1,000 cases of alleged housing discrimination, said Dia Poole, a department spokesman.

When a department investigation reveals a probable violation of the law, staff attempt to resolve the case. If those attempts fail, the department may litigate the matter.

The department has up to 365 days to issue an accusation, which will then be heard before the Fair Employment and Housing Commission or in civil court, Poole said.

Under the program, which is funded by a $500,000 grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, both sides will be offered mediation as an alternative.

If the disputing parties agree, a mediation session will be held within 30 days of the complaint. Of the program's 16 mediators, 11 are attorneys and all have experience in mediating such cases, Poole said. Mediation sessions can be held anywhere in the state.

Although the program is expected to save time and money, it may also save disputants "emotional costs, the stress involved in going through perhaps a lengthy investigation or court case," Poole said.

In meetings, housing advocates and providers have expressed support for the program, said Andrea Rosa, deputy director of the state employment and housing department. Resolving complaints could prevent problems and hostilities from escalating.

"In most instances, the individuals who have a complaint will be returning to the residence, to the apartment, so it's important that the matter be resolved as soon as possible," she said.

Jennifer Strawn of the California Apartment Assn. called mediation a win-win situation, particularly because of the time it saves.

"There have been some local mediation programs that some of our chapters participated in," Strawn said. "We've seen how mediation can work and help to ease tensions."

Both sides can openly discuss concerns because the sessions are confidential. Mediation members will not share information with the department's enforcement division.

"Housing providers and complainants would be concerned if everything they said there gets transferred to the enforcement division," Rosa said. If the case is not resolved in mediation and it gets transferred back for an investigation, "we start anew."

The program is the largest developed under HUD's Partnership Initiative with fair housing agencies. The state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing processes one of every 10 federal housing discrimination cases, according to HUD.

"We have every expectation that the success of this enterprise will serve as a model for similar programs," Chuck Hauptman of HUD said in a statement.

Those interested may call the Los Angeles office toll-free at (866) 870-9456 or visit

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