The role of a mediator is to work with both parties, on an independent basis, to reach a compromise that everyone can work with and move on from. A good mediator can be incredibly valuable in resolving property management disputes, including service charge cases.
Mediation is an informal and confidential process that allows the parties to ‘have their say’ whilst at the same time offering the opportunity for them to potentially settle their differences through a negotiated settlement.
This voluntary process can involve a round-table meeting with all parties but, usually, parties will sit in separate rooms, with the mediator acting as a conduit between them to encourage a frank discussion and to ultimately settle the issues they have.
You need your appointed mediator to not only understand the subject matter but to also be able to connect with the disputing parties and quickly gain their confidence. Impeccable listening and communication skills are vital: at the end of the day mediation is about delivering a ‘meeting of minds’.
At Brady Solicitors we frequently turn to mediation to resolve disputes where leaseholders are withholding payment of their service charge, but finding a mediator with the right skillset and the expertise to deliver a result can be a challenge. We are fortunate to have worked with several talented property management mediators but also rely on personal recommendations, independent directories such as the Legal 500, and specialist mediation chambers.
Once you’ve drawn up a shortlist of potential mediators, review their CVs to compare relevant experience, and I would also recommend a telephone call to check their approach and potential ‘fit’ with your client and the dispute at hand.
Cost-wise you can expect to pay anywhere between £500 and £5,000 per day based on the mediator’s expertise and experience. This cost is shared by both parties. As with most things, you get what you pay for so my advice would be to head mid-range – and avoid the lower-cost options as you may well find they don’t have the experience nor skill-set you need.
Even at the higher end of the scale it is almost always cheaper to resolve a property dispute through mediation rather than at court, where legal fees can mount up very quickly. With mediation you are in control of the process and the associated costs.
The other key advantages of mediation over litigation are speed, flexibility and relationships. Mediation can be arranged quickly and bring about a swifter resolution. On the flexibility front, mediation gives greater freedom in determining the matters to be discussed and included in any negotiated deal.
Perhaps the most important advantage of mediation however is its ability to help preserve relationships: mediation gives the parties the opportunity to speak openly and discuss all the circumstances, this allows them to understand each other better when emotions get in the way.
Carmela Inguanta is Head of Litigation at Brady Solicitors