Davis v. Echo Valley Condominium Association, No. 17-12475 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 7, 2018)

Summary

The Eastern District of Michigan court held that a smoking ban demanded by a disabled owner was an unreasonable accommodation for purposes of the Fair Housing Act since the measure was not approved by the owners, and the Association was powerless to impose a ban without an owner vote.

The Facts

Plaintiff owned a Unit in the Echo Valley Condominium Association (the “Association”). Plaintiff complained to the Association that her neighbors smoked tobacco. She alleged that she could regularly smell it and that it exacerbated her existing respiratory health conditions.

Plaintiff informed the Association about her medical issues and asked the Association to address the smoking by creating a rule that all smokers in the Association should be required to seal gaps around doors and windows to prevent smoke from escaping. The Association declined to enforce a rule because neither the Association documents nor state law prohibited people from smoking in their homes.
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IMPRESSION: The ruling in Great Am. Ins. Co. v. State Parkway Condo. Ass’n, No. 17-cv-3083 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 11, 2018), should serve as a cautionary tale to Condo and HOA boards.

DETAILS: In Chicago, a unit owner of a condominium located at 1445 North State Street filed an Illinois state discrimination claim in 2007 against the State Parkway Condominium Association (“SPCA”) for failure to accommodate his hearing disability during SPCA Board meetings.  The SPCA defended the claim under its 2006-2007 Non-Profit Management and Organization Liability Insurance Policy (“policy) issued by Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (“Travelers”).

A settlement between parties was reached in September 2007; but six months later, the SPCA sued the same unit owner in an entirely unrelated matter.
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A Board’s blatant mishandling of an emotional support animal request led to the owner not only having a Fair Housing claim against the Association for wrongful failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, but also a claim for third-party harassment when the Association failed to step in and stop other unit owners from blasting the owner publicly on a blog.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, an owner that lived in a no pets community applied to the Board requesting an emotional support dog, providing a doctor’s letter prescribing the dog. The Board didn’t want to deal with the request and kept putting it off, hoping it would go away. Meanwhile, a Board member told another owner about the emotional support animal request, and the owner, who was an active blogger and upset by the presence of a dog in their community, started blogging about the situation, naming the owner and poking fun at her need for an emotional support dog using cruel and chastising language.
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A unit owner, who is also an attorney, was renting his unit to his mother and believed that the condominium association board, the association, the property manager and the association’s attorney didn’t like him because of his Russian nationality. His mother, who allegedly had asthma and could not tolerate smoking, was upset because her Armenian neighbor would smoke inside her own unit and on her limited common element patio and the smoke would seep through the mother’s open windows. The unit owner demanded that the association board prohibit smoking inside of all of the units. When the board refused, he brought a 200-paragraph lawsuit alleging seven various causes of action, including discrimination, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of various alleged laws.
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There are some new HUD (Housing and Urban Development) Rules that went into effect October 2016 which may have a significant impact on Condominium and Homeowners Associations, and although we very much dislike these new Rules for the reasons set forth below, it is important for Associations to be aware of these new liability traps.

The new HUD Rules state that there are two types of harassment (Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment) that are now recognized and identified by the FHA (Fair Housing Act).
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Non-action may no longer be a safe choice. In October of 2016, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) added certain provisions to the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) which impose additional liability for condominium associations, homeowners associations, and landlords based on non-action.

One of the main additions to the FHA was the inclusion of a prohibition of quid pro quo harassment. Under the new provision, it is illegal to request or demand conduct in exchange for the sale or rental of a unit or dwelling, the provision of services for a unit, or the terms or conditions of residing in a unit.
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