By Marilyn Littlejohn

It’s a sad fact that the dictionary contains almost twice as many words that mean “conflict” as it contains words meaning “friendship.” This points to just how common it is for people to get into disputes – over living arrangements, behavior, price or quality of services delivered, and much more!

If you are in a conflict with someone – such as a neighbor, landlord, debt collector or business – you might wonder what you can do about it, especially if you do not have much money. Rather than taking things into your own hands, experts offering low-cost or free dispute resolution and legal services can help you solve the problem.

Locally, you can access several such providers at the Burien Community Resource Center (Mondays, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. at the Burien Community Center, 14700 6th Ave SW). Two of the providers to know about are the Dispute Resolution Center of King County and the Northwest Justice Project.

Dispute Resolution Center of King County
The Dispute Resolution Center of King County (DRC) is a nonprofit organization that has offered affordable mediation and conflict resolution services for individuals, businesses, and families in King County since 1986.

“Often, people feel their only option for solving a conflict is to go to court,” said Anita Johnson, navigator with DRC’s Veterans and Seniors Program. “Dispute resolution offers an alternative. Our trained mediators can help people have safe, productive conversations that can help them explore ways to resolve a conflict.”

Going through mediation allows people to stay in control of the outcome of their conflict, while preserving their legal rights and options, Johnson added.

DRC has conducted many mediations between neighbors in conflict, especially in low-income housing. Disputes can include feeling your neighbor is playing their music too loudly; misuses hallways, courtyards or other common spaces; has an annoying pet; etc.

“In these situations, one or both of the neighbors might feel the other is being antagonistic, does not respect their personal space or says inflammatory things – with tensions increasing until both feel unsafe,” Johnson said. “We are able to help neighbors find mutually beneficially agreements that help them set safe boundaries and give each other space. Most of the time, neighbors want the other person to leave them alone, so we help them write agreements that outline what that looks like, and that everyone can follow. All of this can be done without going through a formal process that could make someone vulnerable to losing their housing (such as with an anti-harassment petition).”

Feedback from DRC participants includes:

  • “Mediation is an excellent method to reduce tensions, expose underlying issues and come to a mutual agreement.”
  • “Mediation helped us reach an agreement that would otherwise be impossible.”
  • “Give it a try with an open mind.”

“If you are interested in mediation, but unsure if it is appropriate for your situation, we can have an in-depth conversation at the Burien Community Resource Center location to determine whether mediation is a good fit, and can refer you to other legal and social services, when requested,” Johnson said.

Northwest Justice Project
Another provider available to you at the Burien Community Resource Center is the Northwest Justice Project (NJP). They strive to ensure justice for all low-income people in Washington, while combatting injustice, strengthening communities, and protecting human dignity.

“We offer free legal services in a wide range of areas in which low-income people need civil legal assistance, including family law, housing, consumer, labor and civil rights,” said Joe Jordan, managing attorney for NJP.

Jordan discusses an example of the results NJP can achieve for clients:

“A client came to us needing court documents from California regarding an old eviction, because she was having trouble renting here. The case in California was sealed, so we got her in contact with a legal-aid organization in California, and they got the documents. In the course of getting the client housed, NJP discovered that when she moved from California, she used a moving company that still had her things in storage. The moving company had arrived days late to move her things, and then in the 11th hour increased her fees by more than 300%. When she couldn’t pay, the moving company kept her belongings. NJP contacted the federal regulator for moving companies, who then exerted influence on the moving company. Eventually, the goods were delivered to Seattle for the original, agreed-upon price.”

Jordan also notes that NJP can help with a host of other needs, such as resolving consumer debt issues, and addressing barriers to finding housing, including old landlord debt or an old eviction that needs to be sealed.

Come check it out
Although disputes are a common fact of life, you do not need to suffer on your own. The Dispute Resolution Center of King County and the Northwest Justice Project, as well as other service providers at the Burien Community Resource Center can help you work out an affordable solution to your troubles.

Marilyn Littlejohn is a community court coordinator with King County District Court. Among other things, she has done community & intergovernmental relations for the City of Seattle Human Services Department, as well as managed its Domestic & Sexual Violence Prevention Office, and worked for the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWa) in the adult education, employment training and naturalization programs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch for additional posts soon that highlight services available at the Burien Community Resource Center – a partnership between King County District Court and the City of Burien.