Vol. 11, No. 20 Oct. 22 - Nov. 4, 1998


Bringing in the Middle Man


Mediation Center Leads Way to Peace and Quiet

To straighten out a noise dispute with a neighbor, most of us look to our precinct, our landlord, or even housing court. But there's another option available to Bronx residents: the free mediation services of IMCR Dispute Resolution Center.

Of the approximately 3,000 criminal, family, consumer, and landlord-tenant cases that IMCR staff and volunteers mediated last year, eight percent were noise disputes, estimates Stephen E. Slate, IMCR's executive director. He points out that, often, it's not readily apparent that what they're dealing with is a noise dispute. "Sometimes individuals come in wanting to solve a harassment problem," Slate says, "and we discover during the mediation session that it's a noise case. A neighbor keeps banging on their door or the ceiling or walls because of what he or she perceives as too much noise."

Cultural differences frequently lie at the heart of noise disputes, says Slate, himself a mediator as well as a much-sought-after trainer in mediation and conflict resolution. "What is noise for one group of people may not be noise for another," he says, adding, "more often than not, disputes boil down to cultural differences between members of the same ethnic group. For example, African Americans who love to play rap music and those who consider it noise" regardless of the volume.

Another common basis of noise feuds are lifestyles as different as night and day, literally. Says Slate: "Someone who works during the day doesn't want to hear a lot of noise late at night. However, his upstairs neighbor may just be starting his day at that time. And vice versa." For the most part, noise problems that arrive at IMCR concern an adjacent neighbor's loud music or disorderly kids, or both.
Slate explains that, typically, the individuals affected by the noise are at their wit's end because their multiple personal pleas, letters from the landlord, and visits by the police to the other party, have been ineffective. Viewing these measures, not to mention their neighbor's pounding, as violations of their peace and quiet, the other party, too, is exasperated. By the time they're sitting across from each other at the mediation table, both sides are fuming.

Nevertheless, Slate emphasizes, such tense sessions remain very much an opportunity for a resolution, since both parties have decided to show up in the first place. "There are plenty of cases where people have never sat down and talked before, where they don't know the other person," he says. "In fact, sometimes the other party is angry because he or she has never been approached personally."

Most disputes are resolved, Slate says. Agreements have ranged from limiting the hours and volume of music-playing, to installing carpeting, to taking the kids out to play more often, to knocking on the door or calling on the phone instead of banging on the wall. "The ideas for agreements are entirely both parties'," Slate says. "This is the beauty of mediation." It's also its greatest challenge, he concedes.

"We live in a society where everything is done for you," Slate says. "Many people who come into the center are not at ease that they, not a judge or the police, are going to be making the decisions. ‘Damn! I didn't have to lose a day's work for this,' they'll say when they realize that the entire process from beginning to end is voluntary. But both parties can walk away a winner, by having decided to recognize the other's needs. And all of us need peace and quiet."

To be sure, all of us do need peace and quiet. Just as much, we need peaceful ways of obtaining it. For 23 years, IMCR has been quietly leading the way.

IMCR Dispute Resolution Center is located at 384 E. 149th St., Suite 330, Bronx, NY 10455. The phone number is (718) 585-1190.

John Dallas is founder of the Bronx Campaign for Peace and Quiet. Write to him in care of: Norwood News, 75 E. 208th St., Bronx, NY 10467.

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