Page 2 of 2 Previous
In many cities, police refer feuding neighbors to mediation services.
Ramsey, Coon Rapids, Fridley, Blaine and many other north-suburban police departments and Anoka County send them to Mediation Services for Anoka County, which handles neighbor disputes for free. It’s one of seven nonprofits certified by the state Supreme Court to resolve feuds outside of court.
Dave Bartholomay, executive director of Mediation Services for Anoka County, said last year, his nonprofit handled 228 mediations, dozens involving neighbors. “We see a lot of neighbor cases where you worry if we don’t get them in and help them resolve it, where will this end up?” he said. “It’s a wide range of slights that grow and grow. ... It becomes an unhealthy kind of obsession.” The longer a dispute festers, the more potentially dangerous it can become, he said.
When a dispute is referred to Anoka County Mediation, both parties must agree to mediation. Both sides tell their side of the story uninterrupted to a neutral mediator. A resolution is signed by both parties, but it’s not legally binding.
In one case, he said, older neighbors repeatedly had called police about a young man’s bonfire parties. During mediation, the man agreed to take the party inside at 11 p.m. and the neighbors agreed to stop calling police.
“It doesn’t have to be all kumbaya and skipping off together in the sunset, but it’s figuring out how to be a good neighbor,” said Jeanne Zimmer, executive director of Dispute Resolution Center, the nonprofit serving Ramsey, Dakota and Washington counties.
Dispute Resolution Center, which uses a sliding fee scale, handles 200 to 1,000 cases yearly. The first hurdle is convincing people they don’t need a legal hammer to get results.
Cultural and value differences can play a role in neighbor disputes. Zimmer recalled a dispute between a gay couple and straight couple. The neighbors had defined the rift as being about parking and noise, but later revealed some underlying judgments about lifestyle.
“You can still be a good neighbor even if you have very different ways of seeing the world,” she said.
Disputes tend to surge in the summer months, said Beth Bailey, executive director of Community Mediation & Restorative Services in New Hope, which serves 40 suburban cities in Hennepin County. Her organization has contracts with its cities and does not charge neighbors.
Bailey said another key factor is that people are less likely to know their neighbors now.
“We pull into our garage and close it behind us,” she said. “We tend to not interact with our neighbors. People are more inclined to call the police if they don’t know anything about their neighbors.”
Nicole Norfleet contributed this report. Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804