By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Another fair housing lawsuit filed in New York adds to a growing list of religious discrimination complaints filed by homeowners and residents against their association-governed community (HOA).
A report published by Westfair Communications notes that 11 Orthodox Jews, from 15 Hasidic families that currently reside in Highland Lake Estates, (Highland Mills, NY) accuse their HOA board members and property manager of making new rules, and selectively enforcing covenants, in ways that offend their religious beliefs.
For example, the HOA board has reportedly decided that no commercial transactions can take place on Sundays. The rule seems to be designed to prevent two Hasidic real estate agents from showing homes for sale to other Hasidic homebuyers.
The Jewish faith designates Saturday as the Sabbath, or day of rest, when no commercial transactions may occur. So, effectively, the HOA only allows weekday showings for Observant Jews.
Homeowners say their HOA also removed an eruv installed by one of the homeowners. (For readers who may not be familiar with the concept, this article explains the purpose of the eruv.)
The lawsuit points out that rules are selectively enforced against Hasidic Jewish families, but Christian families are allowed to display religious symbols and decorations without fear of being fined, sued, or otherwise penalized or harassed by the HOA.
There are also allegations that two board members made blatant and deliberate attempts to drive Jewish home buyers away from Highland Lake Estates, and prevented one family from renting their home or trying to sell it.
One troublesome issue for homeowners is that two of them refused to pay HOA assessments, in protest of the board’s discriminatory actions against them.
Unfortunately state laws generally recognize HOA covenants as legal contracts, whereby owners are almost always required to pay regular and special assessments, without exception. Failure to pay one’s HOA assessments often results in formal collection efforts up to and including placing a lien on the owner’s property, financial judgment and wage garnishment, or foreclosure of the home to collect the lien owed to the HOA.
Most homeowners elect to pay off an HOA lien to avoid foreclosure. However, in the process of collection on behalf of the HOA, attorneys often generate thousands of dollars in legal fees, ultimately payable by the homeowner.
The lawsuit seeks $7.5 million in damages, but the article does not explain how the Plaintiffs arrived at that figure.
The welcome page on Highland Lake Estates’ internet site boasts about its diverse and multicultural community, but 11 Hasidic Jews paint a very different picture of the Highland Mills, Orange County, neighborhood.
They have sued the homeowners association, property manager and board members for $7.5 million, claiming that Highland Lake Estates is hostile to their religious practices.
The association has adopted rules that are “expressly designed to harass Hasidic Jews,” according to the complaint filed in federal court in White Plains.
Efforts to reach five board members named in the lawsuit failed.
Arthur Edwards Inc., the current property manager based in New Tappan, New Jersey, declined to comment. Archway Property Management Inc., a previous property manager based in Central Valley, said in an email, “As we have not seen this lawsuit, it is too early to comment.”
About 15 Hasidic families have bought homes at Highland Lake.
The Highland Lakes HOA website has been taken down.