Neighbors Sued for Harassment

A couple subjected to anti-Semitic harassment by members of their homeowners’ association can seek damages under the Fair Housing Act. The couple owned a home in a subdivision managed by a homeowners’ association. One of the plaintiffs is Jewish.

The homeowners’ association president wrote anti-Semitic graffiti on the side of their home and vandalized their property. Members of the homeowners’ association obstructed their efforts to investigate the vandalism. The couple sued the homeowners’ association under the Fair Housing Act which makes it unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of the rights provided under that act.

The association argued that the act only prohibited conduct that interfered with a person’s right to acquire or hold property, and that the plaintiffs could not state a claim based on harassment when such conduct did not force them to move. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit ruled that interference with “enjoyment of a dwelling” because of religion forbidden by HUD regulations, can take place after the dwelling has been acquired.

The conduct alleged in the plaintiff’s claim constituted “threatening, intimidating or interfering” within the meaning of the act and the regulations. The Court noted that it did not want, and did not think Congress wanted, to convert every quarrel among neighbors in which a racial or religious slur is hurled into a federal case. However, in this case there was a pattern of harassment, invidiously motivated, which was backed by the homeowners association.