Tarter Krinsky & Drogin, Partner
The client’s tale. The president of a large co-op client consulted me earlier this year about suing a vendor with whom the board was dissatisfied. After discussing the potential claims and defenses, I persuaded the president not to start the action, as the amount to be recovered, approximately $20,000, could be dwarfed by potential legal fees. I convinced her to seek mediation with the vendor, which she did, and the vendor agreed. The dispute was settled by the mediator in less than half a day favorably to the co-op.
The lawyer’s take. I am a panel member of the New City Bar Association’s Co-op and Condo Dispute Resolution Project and a big believer in mediating many different types of disputes. Mediation can be resolved with the city bar’s project, which is well suited to help resolve disputes between unit-owners, disputes between unit-owners and their boards, and even disputes between co-op boards and the holders of unsold units that have special rights greater than an owner-occupant’s rights.
In mediation, there are no orders, judgments, or formal findings of fact; rather, the parties are free to chart their own course and voluntarily agree to the terms of settlement – or not. It is often cathartic for parties to “get it off their chests,” really listen to the other parties’ side of the story, and then find a reasonable solution to the dispute, sometimes even re-establishing the relationships that had been good prior to the disputes in question.
Many types of agreements, such as construction contracts, contain an “alternative dispute resolution” clause mandating mediation and/or arbitration, but people and businesses may also agree to it once a dispute has arisen. When various types of disputes arise, such as those involving smaller amounts of money, noise, or secondhand smoke complaints, I routinely advise co-op boards to consider mediation and arbitration instead of litigation. In general, the boards have been quite happy with this advice, and it has helped solidify my relationships with the clients who always appreciate saving money without sacrificing their principles.
Case closed. The high costs of litigation are sometimes not worth the effort when mediation is available at lower costs in far less time. Mediation does not always work, and the parties can then agree to arbitrate rather than litigate, which is often cheaper and faster and usually achieves a fair result.