How one FL condo association is trying to get around a Fair Housing lawsuit

The solution: simply tweak the language of the rules

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

 

Remember, Cambridge House, the Port Charlotte condo association that decided to ban a bible study group – and all other religious activity – from its meeting room?

That blatant violation of religious freedom led to Donna Dunbar’s fair housing lawsuit filed with HUD. News releases made by Greenberg Traurig, a Florida law firm, and Liberty Institute, a legal organization based in Texas, made headlines across the nation.

According to a more recent news release, bad publicity and a pending HUD investigation have apparently led Cambridge House board of directors to attempt to enact a new rule. Adam Foslid of Greenberg Traurig explains that new rule would require any support groups or special interest groups wishing to use the club house to obtain official approval of the board, especially if the meeting would include non-residents of Cambridge House.

Foslid says that the policy revision still exhibits discriminatory intent, even though the new wording removes specific reference to religious or Christian activities. He says he amended the HUD complaint to reflect the condo board’s new resolution. A vote on that resolution is supposed to take place as early as this week.

 

Condo Accused of Religious Ban Offers Revised Policy
The Port Charlotte condominium wants to change the wording of a policy that previously banned prayer and religious meetings.

By Lidia Dinkova | April 05, 2018 at 03:53 PM

Adam Foslid, with Greenberg Traurig.
A condominium association accused of Fair Housing Act violations after prohibiting prayer and religious meetings in common areas wants to change course.

Cambridge House instead wants to prohibit daily, weekly and monthly gatherings for support and special interest groups, clubs, therapy sessions and seminars if the meetings include outsiders and don’t have a written condo board approval, according to a proposed resolution.

SOURCE: (free email subscription required)

https://www.law.com/dailybusinessreview/2018/04/05/condo-accused-of-religious-ban-offers-revised-policy/

Of course, the latest move by Cambridge House condo board and management is very typical. As soon as the rule makers are challenged, they seek a loophole, a way to soften the language of the rule, but without undoing it completely.

The goal of Cambridge House is to control what types of meetings and activities from take place on common property.  Perhaps the new excuse for a restriction on Dunbar’s Christian bible study and music playing is that too many “outsiders” will be using space in the meeting room. Or it might suddenly become difficult for the group to find a time when meeting space will be available, and not already booked for some other activity that is deemed more acceptable to the condo board.

But, isn’t control over one’s neighbors the goal of many restrictive covenants and board enacted rules?

The pattern in the HOA industry is consistent — the rules are carefully crafted in the hopes that they will be technically legal. They may even give the appearance of fairness, but , in practice, residents often experience discrimination by restrictive covenant.

The HOA doesn’t want to prohibit your flag. They just don’t approve of your flag pole. You can hang a Mezuzah or a cross on your condo door, but only if it’s less than 3 by 6 inches.

Or the condo association often enacts a rule that no resident can decorate their door, so as to avoid conflicts over Christmas wreaths or religious-themed holiday messages.

You can keep your work truck, as long as you hide it in the garage and don’t park it on your driveway. And you might face similar onerous parking requirements for a van that is specially equipped for a disabled member of your household.

No room in your garage? Then take everything out of your garage to make room for your vehicles. But you must store all that stuff that was in your garage somewhere indoors, because you’re not allowed to have a shed on your property.

The condo association does not discriminate against your children. They just don’t allow anyone to ride bikes or skateboards in the parking courts or on the sidewalks. They simply require you to take down the “portable” basketball hoop in the driveway and store it and all other outdoor toys in your garage every night.

The association says you can have your wheelchair ramp, but only if they approve of the design. Sure, you can have your service animal, but you have to use the freight elevator to enter and leave the building with your dog.

You get the idea.

Will Cambridge House’s new resolution, if approved, satisfy HUD and end the Fair Housing investigation? Or will HUD officials recognize the underlying intent to exclude religious expression on common property?

Housing consumers of U.S. property should follow this case closely.

Be on the lookout for trade group “friend of the court” briefs and public relations “news” releases on the status of Dunbar’s federal fair housing complaint.

Take notice when the HOA industry promotes the right of private association-governed communities to circumvent the spirit of Fair Housing Acts by micromanaging residents and common areas, undermining efforts to create a true “sense of community.”

 

 

 

 

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