Human Relations to assist courts by mediating COVID-related rent disputes

Human Relations to assist courts by mediating COVID-related rent disputes
June 03
15:23 2020

At the request of Chief District Judge Lisa Menefee, the Winston-Salem Human Relations Department on Monday, June 1, began mediating landlord-tenant disputes related to the non-payment of rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Menefee reached out to the department to help the courts deal with a backlog of landlord-tenant disputes that have collected while the courts have been closed. Having the department deal specifically with rent disputes related to COVID-19 will allow the courts to focus on the other landlord-tenant cases. The courts reopened June 1.

All mediations will be conducted remotely.

The department normally mediates landlord-tenant disputes before they are filed in court as part of its routine duties and has two trained mediators on staff. To augment them, the department will use lawyers and professional mediators in the community who volunteer their services.

The department also has secured the assistance of law students who staff the free legal clinic operated by the Wake Forest University law school, said Wanda Allen-Abraha, the director of human relations.

The law students will go through a training course to make sure they are familiar with landlord-tenant law and the special provisions put in place under COVID-19 emergency declarations related to non-payment of rent, Allen-Abraha said. This training will also be available to lawyers and mediators who do not normally deal with landlord-tenant disputes.

“We are honored to have been asked to partner with the court in this manner,” Allen-Abraha said. “I have been working with the Legal Aid Society, the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, the Wake Forest School of Law and the city attorney’s office to develop a virtual training program for volunteer mediators. We are also working with former judge Andy Cromer, who has volunteered as a professional mediator, as well as members of the local bar who will, hopefully, volunteer. We think this partnership is the first of its kind in North Carolina.”

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