Mediation May Help Restore Peace and Quiet : Dispute resolution: Service could help neighbors end feud over noise levels.


QUESTION: I live in Panorama City and I am writing to you in hopes that you can help me with the problems I am having with my noisy upstairs neighbors. Often, they sound like a herd of elephants, among other things. They, on the other hand, complain that I snore too loudly, but I can't do anything about that.

Recently, I read about handling noisy neighbors in another Times Real Estate column, but it didn't say anything about mediation and mediation services.

I've heard there are mediation services that can help people like me. Since I'm disabled and living on SSI, I can't afford lawyers or courts. Mediation seems like a reasonable alternative for me. What do you think? Can you give me some referrals?

ANSWER: Mediation does seem like a reasonable alternative for you to avoid having to hear the herd of elephants. You must understand, however, that both parties must be willing participants.

According to Jason K. Wallace, an attorney and professional mediator in Manhattan Beach, "Successful mediation requires the parties to work together to find a mutually satisfactory solution to the conflict.

"Unlike arbitration or litigation, where a third party listens to both sides, then renders a decision, the mediator's role is to identify the issues and then help the parties identify and define a solution. The mediator does not have the power to impose a decision."

It's also important to make sure that all people necessary for an effective solution are present at the mediation. In your situation, you may want to ask your landlord to participate, if you think that a possible solution could involve the landlord, such as adding sound-absorbing floor covering in the upstairs apartment.

As for referrals, neighbor disputes of this type can be handled at low or no cost by any of several regional nonprofit groups including Dispute Resolution Services, a program of Los Angeles County Bar Assn., which can be reached at (213) 627-2727.

What Are Renters' Rights If Home Is Being Shown?

Q: I share a house in Shadow Hills with another renter and the landlord. I have lived here for 1 1/2 years. The other day the landlord informed us that his ex-wife, who co-owns the house with him, is forcing him to put the house up for sale.

My rental agreement is with him only. She is not mentioned anywhere in the agreement, and there are no provisions in the rental agreement for the sale of the property. He says he doesn't want to sell but has no choice. Apparently neither do we.

The other renter and I would like to know what our privacy rights are when prospective buyers come to view the property. We have quite a bit of expensive video and computer equipment at the house that we're nervous about. Unfortunately, none of us can be here 24 hours a day.

What are our rights regarding prospective buyers' rights to enter? Also, could the landlord's ex-wife force us to move whether the house sells or not?

A: The landlord has the right to show the house to prospective buyers. However, he is required to give you a reasonable notice of his intent to enter, unless you consent to his showing the house without such notice.

For example, if you're at home and say that it's OK, the owner may show the house without any advance notice. Otherwise, 24 hours notice generally is presumed to be reasonable notice of his intent to enter.

For instance, if the owner wants to show the house between the hours of noon and 5 p.m. on a Saturday, he would be wise to give you a written notice of his intent to enter before noon on the preceding Friday.

California law requires owners to enter during regular business hours, which aren't defined by the law but probably are something like between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday-Saturday, unless it is an emergency.

If the owner is showing the house at times when no residents are present, he would be wise to have a neutral, third-party witness along.

As for your question about whether the ex-wife could force you to move, that depends on how you view the situation. She probably can't evict you herself (as you say, she's not a party to the rental agreement), but she may be able to persuade her ex-husband to do so even if the house doesn't sell.

If the house sells, the new owners could ask you to leave with a 30-day notice to vacate since you appear to have only a month-to-month rental agreement, as opposed to a lease.

Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, an apartment owners service group. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to "Rentformation," Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90005-3995.

Postema has published "The Best of Apartment Life: How to Survive Apartment Living and Ownership," a 154-page compilation of columns printed in the Times over the past five years.

It provides answers to 85 of the most frequently asked questions about apartment living, managing and ownership. The 23 chapters include "Nightmare on Elm Street: Tenant Screening," "Water, Water Everywhere: Rules for Pools" and "When the Party's Over: All About Moving Out."

The book sells for $12.75, which includes tax, postage and packaging. Checks, made payable to AAGLA, should be sent to Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, c/o Kevin Postema, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90005-3995. Allow three weeks for delivery.

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