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Human Rights decisions in the United States

Florida woman with banished service dog gets $300,000 condo settlement
Ban on kids playing football = housing discrimination lawsuit against Virginia HOA
Condo board discriminates against Chinese resident, state says

Florida woman with banished service dog gets $300,000 condo settlement
Miami Herald
By Carli Teproff
28 May 2014

Calling the behavior of a Davie condominium association “absurd” and “unreasonable,” a federal judge has ordered a Davie condominium to allow a disabled resident to keep her service dog.

The two-year dispute will carry a hefty price tag for the Sabal Palm Condominiums: $300,000.

Deborah Fischer, a retired Broward art teacher who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000, was sued by Sabal Palm Condominiums after her dog, Sorenson, moved into her apartment in November 2011. Fischer, who uses a wheelchair and has limited use of her arms and hands, needs Sorenson to pick things, up, open and close doors and retrieve items from counter tops.

“Sabal Palm got it exactly — and unreasonably — wrong,” U.S. District Judge Scola wrote in his order. “This is not just common sense — though it is most certainly that.”

The condominium complex in Davie’s Pine Island Ridge neighborhood does not allow pets over 20 pounds and demanded medical records and other information to prove that Fischer needed Sorenson — a 5-year-old Labrador-golden retriever mix — to help her. Saying Fischer didn’t provide the proper documentation, the condo association sued, said the woman’s attorney, Matthew Dietz of Miami.

Fischer, along with her husband, Larry, counter-sued, saying the condo board’s demands violated the federal Fair Housing Act, or FHA.

Scola agreed with Fischer, and gave the condo board a serious verbal lashing in his 30-page order.

That the condo association “turned to the courts to resolve what should have been an easy decision is a sad commentary on the litigious nature of our society,” Scola wrote in a March 19 order. “And it does a disservice to people like Deborah who actually are disabled and have a legitimate need for a service dog as an accommodation under the FHA.”

In their arguments, board members suggested that, even if Fischer needed a service dog, she could have gotten by with an animal that did not weigh more than the Sabal Palm’s 20-pount limit. But, Scola wrote, such a dog would not have been able to meet Fishcer’s needs. Sorenson, the judge ruled, was a “reasonable accommodation” to Sabal Palm’s requirements.

“That a blind person may already have a cane, or that he or she could use a cane instead of a dog in no way prevents the blind person from also obtaining a seeing-eye dog as a reasonable accommodation under the FHA,” Scola wrote. “A contrary result is absurd.”

After Scola ruled in the Fischers’ favor, Dietz said he negotiated the $300,000 settlement with the attorney representing Sabal Palm, Karen Nissen.

Nissen did not return calls or an e-mail Tuesday. David Rosinsky, the attorney representing Marvin Silvergold, who was the board president at the time and was sued individually, said the case was “amicably resolved.” A summary judgment against Christopher Trapani, who was the attorney of the association at the time, was denied. Trapani could not be reached for comment.

Fischer said the dispute started in November 2011, when she brought Sorenson home after getting him from Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit group that provides service dogs for people with disabilities. She had sent the complex’s association a letter notifying them that she would be getting a service dog. For five months, Fischer went back and forth with the association.

“I have an obvious disability,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe how hard they were making it.”

Fischer said Sorenson quickly became an important part of her life. He helped her do things she couldn’t do for herself — such as turning the lights in her apartment on and off, picking up TV remotes from coffee tables or counters, or scooping up keys from the floor. The retriever allowed her to perform routine tasks without bothering her husband.

In all, Sorenson can recognize 40 separate commands, Fischer said.

“He has made my life so much better,” she said.

But as the litigation dragged on in court, Fischer said, the drama began to overwhelm her. She had lived in the complex for more than a dozen years, and, suddenly, people she had lived near for years were adverse parties to a lawsuit.

“It was very difficult to deal with,” she said.

Fischer’s lawyer said the facts were clear: “This is one of the worst cases like this that I’ve seen,” said Dietz, who specializes in civil rights and disability lawsuits. “It is obvious that the service dog would help her.”

Dietz said a new board has since been elected and the rules have changed. He hopes the case will help others become more sensitve to the needs of disabled people.

Fischer agreed, saying she hopes no one has to go through what she went through.

“I am finally free of the questions, investigations and litigation,” she said. “We are at the point where we can have some peace of mind and finally move forward.”

Court judgment

The court judgment is online. The condo president was found to be personally libel for contributing to a Fair Housing Act violation. The judge explained that in Florida, individual board members and property managers can be held personally responsible for commiting or contributing to a Fair Housing Act violation.


Ban on kids playing football = housing discrimination lawsuit against Virginia HOA
Originally posted: 26 Oct 2010

Boards of Directors are empowered by statute in Virginia and often times by the governing documents of the community association to enact rules and regulations concerning common areas, common elements, recreational facilities or other areas of association responsibility.  Rules related to the use of common areas or common elements and recreational facilities should be based on concerns about safety, sanitation and nuisance.  In certain instances a Board of Directors may want to enact a rule to address the activities of children – limiting their pool time, forbidding children under a certain age from using recreational facilities or prohibiting certain activities on common areas or elements.  Be careful, the rule you enact may violate the federal and state Fair Housing Act.

According to a Complaint filed against a Chesapeake condominium association, the association had a “Group Sports Activity” rule that banned organized sports activities in the common areas without approval of the board. Concerns were raised whether this rule banned activities such as a parent and child passing a football.The Commonwealth of Virginia’s Fair Housing Board filed a housing discrimination lawsuit against Cedarwood Condominium Association, a Chesapeake condominium association. There have not been many of these lawsuits.

So the board “embarked on an 18-month examination of the [rule].” People complained about children playing in the common area and meeting minutes stated “that many residents were concerned with children playing within the community.” On the other hand, “there were no complaints . . . of adults playing . . . in common areas.”

According to the Complaint, the board then banned any activity that included tossing a ball, arrow, dart or Frisbee in the common area. As could be expected, kids continued to play. One family received notice of a violation and the required $50 fine. Then a few other families received fines because their kids were playing football in the common area. In fact, according to the Complaint, “50% of the families with children” received violations.

Apparently, these families complained to the Fair Housing Board which conducted an investigation. The Fair Housing Board alleged that the association violated the Virginia Code prohibiting housing discrimination based upon familial status. The Fair Housing Board filed the lawsuit after efforts to settle the issue failed through mediation.
UPDATE: A final order dismissing the case was entered in May 2012.

Have your experienced association attorney review the rules for your association, especially if you have rules that only address the behaviors of children in the neighborhood, or limit their use of the common areas, common elements or recreational facilities.  Not all rules regarding children are discriminatory per se. For example, rules that are based on safety and health issues may not be determined to be discriminatory, but if you use safety or health reasons without any basis, your rule may likely be discriminatory.


TriBeCa condo board discriminates against Chinese resident, State says
27 November 2015

Hanying Liu stands near her 165 Hudson Street building, which she claims she's being forced out of because she's Chinese.

A TriBeCa condo board has barraged one of its residents with racist comments, unlawfully trying to push her out of the building because she is Chinese, according to a lawsuit filed by the state.

Members of the board of TriBeCa's Spice Lofthouse, a 6-story building of multimillion-dollar apartments at 165 Hudson St., have made repeated "disparaging and discriminatory" comments to Hanying Liu, according to the suit filed by the New York State Division of Human Rights on behalf of Liu on Nov. 12.

Board members have told Liu, the only Asian resident of the 15-unit building, that Chinese people "'always lie" and "like to break the rules" and only have Chinese friends, according to the suit.

Some members also told Liu, “'you Chinese get out of here'” and have “interrogated” Chinese, Asian and other minority guests of hers, the suit says.

Liu, 46, a business consultant who is a Chinese native, told DNAinfo New York that the situation in her building has been "horrible."

"They are trying to push me and my daughter from our home," she said.

"They only want you here if you are white—they only tolerated me before because my fiance was white and he worked on Wall Street.

"They are worse than the communists in China—they police me and my friends."

Despite the fact that Liu bought her two-bedroom apartment for $1 million in 2011 and has always made “timely payments,” the board refused to approve her full ownership after her ex-fiance and co-owner, who is white, moved out in 2014, the suit claims.

The board was "willful, wanton and malicious” when it rejected her attempt to transfer her ex-fiance's shares into her name, the suit says. Liu was never given an explanation for why her application was rejected by the board—a rejection pushed through “knowingly and intentionally” because of her race, the suit says.

Liu is suing to gain full control of the apartment and is seeking damages.

A request for comment from the Spice Lofthouse management was not immediately returned.

According to property listings, recent apartments in the 1910 building have sold for more than $2 million.