By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Last week Michael Novak, a plaintiff in a fair housing lawsuit against State Parkway Condominium Association and others, distributed a news release announcing an out-of-court settlement of his 13-year-long dispute over his family’s service animal.
The Novaks, who are both deaf, live with their daughter and a service dog named Hera. Hera alerts the Novaks to doorbells, ringing telephones, alarms, and other situations that hearing people take for granted. Sometimes, Hera also accompanies the Novaks in the common areas of their condo building.
Assistance animal not a pet
Under the Fair Housing Act, an assistance animal in not a pet. Housing providers are obligated to make reasonable accommodations to allow a resident to reside with and use an assistance animal at home.
Residents generally have the right to bring the assistance animal into the common areas of an apartment or condominium community, as long as the animal does not threaten the safety of other residents.
As previously reported in a 2015 LoopNorth News article, the recently-settled legal dispute began when State Parkway Condo Association imposed fines exceeding $2,100 on Michael and Christina Novak, citing “pet violations” and noise complaints.
In response, the Novaks filed a Fair Housing complaint against State Parkway, for not recognizing Hera as an assistance animal. The Novaks also filed a legal complaint claiming that State Parkway failed to accommodate their need for a transcription service at a rules violation hearing in 2010.
Fair housing case continued
The condo association attempted to have the fair housing case dismissed, but a federal judge ruled the case could continue in October 2015.
In addition to the condo association, former management company Lieberman Management Services and former building manager, Donna Weber, were also named as defendants.
During the intervening years, as the fair housing case slowly wound its way through the legal system, Novak and State Parkway sparred in court over the condo association’s failure to provide access to financial records, in accordance with Illinois state laws, and the City of Chicago Ordinances.
Mounting legal fees
By 2017, the association’s legal costs exceeded $1 million. State Parkway’s insurers began denying claims for the condo association’s legal defense involving the Novaks.
That prompted the condo association to issue a $500,000 special assessment to cover ongoing legal fees in the protracted legal battle.
Earlier this year, the court finally informed Michael Novak of his day in court on the Fair Housing complaint. A trial had been scheduled for August 26, 2019.
Just two weeks prior to trial, the parties agreed to a confidential settlement of their disputes.
Neither party is at liberty to share the details of that agreement. ♦
Official August 13, 2019, news release, courtesy of Michael Novak:
Michael and Christina Novak, husband and wife, live in a condominium at 1445 North State Parkway in Chicago (the “Building”). The Novaks have lived in the Building since September 2003. Michael and Christina have a daughter.Michael, Christina, and their daughter are the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Michael has a severe-to-profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Christina has a profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss.
The defendants in this lawsuit are the State Parkway Condominium Association (the “Association”, which is responsible for administration of 1445 North State Parkway, Lieberman Management Services, which was retained in April 2006 to manage the Building, and Donna Weber, who was employed by Lieberman, beginning in September 2007, as Building Manager.
Michael and Christina brought this lawsuit, on behalf of themselves and their daughter, against defendants asserting that defendants have violated the federal Fair Housing Act. They claim that defendants violated the Act by refusing to make reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, including by refusing to provide CART services, which is real time captioning, for board meetings and disciplinary hearings at the Building and for failing to make reasonable accommodations for their assistance animal, a dog named Hera, by allowing her to accompany the Novaks when they are in the Building’s common areas. They further claim that defendants violated the Fair Housing Act by retaliating against them for asserting their right to reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, including by levying unjustified fines against the Novaks and attempting to force the sale of their home. Michael and Christina claim that their daughter has suffered injury as a result of the actions defendants have taken against her parents.
Defendants deny plaintiffs’ allegations. Defendants contend that they provided plaintiffs accommodations to the extent required under the Fair Housing Act by supplying CART services and making accommodations in respect to plaintiffs’ assistance animal when reasonable. Defendants deny that any of the claimed actions were taken in retaliation for plaintiffs asserting their rights to reasonable accommodations. Rather, defendants contend that each of the actions they took with regard to the plaintiffs was for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory and non-retaliatory reason such as to ensure compliance with the Association’s Rules and Regulations. Defendants assert that they treat all of the Association’s unit owners equally regardless of whether or not they have a disability or have exercised their housing rights.
This lawsuit was scheduled for trial on August 26, 2019 before U.S. District Court Judge Edmond Chang. On August 12, 2019, following a mediation before Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert, the parties agreed to settle their disputes. The terms of the settlement are confidential.