(New Haven, CT, Nov. 08, 2005) When Susha and Sholom Alperowitz of New Haven, CT filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission On Human Rights & Opportunities in June/2003 against the Fountainwood Condominium Association and its property manager- Jeremy Almarode of Imagineers, LLC- they were just hoping to be left alone to be allowed to follow their religion as Orthodox Jews. Now approximately 2 1/2 years later it looks like they finally got their wish-- in fact possibly even a little bit more with the negotiation of a recent settlement totaling $27,500!
As practicing members of the Jewish faith, each year the Alperowitzes erect a temporary shelter on the balcony outside their unit in observance of "Sukkoth"- a significant holiday on the Jewish calender. This structure known as a "sukkah" is symbolic of the period of time in which the Jewish people lived in temporary dwellings when they left Egypt and wandered 40 years in the desert. The Jewish religion mandates that the family eat all their meals under the sukkah for the length of Sukkoth (8-12 days during October). Once the holiday is over, the temporary shelter is completely removed and stored away till next year. The problem was, however, that each year the condo association property manager and the condo Board of Directors insisted that the erection of the sukkah was in violation of the condo by-laws regarding outside decorations; and each year they would assess the Alperowitzes with a fine.
Believing that they were not in violation of the by-laws, the Alperowitzes refused to pay the fines. As a result, they were then charged late charges on top of the fines and these would be followed with frequent dunning notices demanding payment. Still, the Alperowitzes stood firm in the belief that a sukkah was not an outside decoration and should not be treated as such. They also pointed out that the structure was situated totally within the confines of their dwelling space and neither presented a visual impediment nor over-lapped into common areas. The difference of opinion continued, however, and the dunning letters became more insistent and annoying to the Alperowitzes when they decided to seek the assistance of the Anti-Defamation League who in turn contacted the Fair Housing Association of Connecticut on their behalf.
Joe Wincze- President of FHACt- assisted the Alperowitzes in filing a complaint with the CT Commission On Human Rights & Opportunities alleging that the actions of the property manager and the condo association constituted harassment and an act of housing discrimination which interfered with the practicing of their religious beliefs. "In essence", Wincze stated, "we viewed it as an attempt to make housing unavailable to them by denying them freedom of religion at their present residence."
Attorney Robert Kor of West Hartford- who had handled other cases involving FHACt clients- agreed to represent the Alperowitzes with regards to their complaint. In April/2004 the Connecticut Commission made a CAUSE FINDING following a full investigation of the facts. They concluded, "there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the Respondents (Fountainwood Condominium Association & property manager Jeremy Almarode) have discriminatorily applied their rules and regulations which have an effect that disparately impacts Jewish residents, those who commemorate the Sukkoth holiday."
Despite the Commission's decision, the Respondents wanted the case heard in state court. Finally on October 17, 2005 a Settlement Agreement was reached by the parties. The terms of the settlement were as follows: 1. Fountainwood Condominium Association shall issue a "letter of apology" to the Alperowitzes. 2. Fountainwood and Imagineers shall rescind all fines and related late charges. 3. Fountainwood shall permanently change the Rules and Regulations to permit the placement of a sukkah on a condo unit's patio, etc in observance of Sukkoth. 4. Fountainwood shall pay $5,000 to the Alperowitzes for compensation. 5. Fountainwood shall pay attorney's fees in the amount of $17,500 to Attorney Robert Kor. 6. Imagineers shall pay $5,000 to the Alperowitzes. 7. Fountainwood Board of Directors shall attend a fair housing training seminar and assume the costs for the training.
Wincze indicated it was a very satisfying settlement achieved by the complainant's attorney- Robert Kor. "Not only did the Alperowitzes achieve the right to worship as they choose but they have also been fairly compensated for what they had to endure. Most important of all, thanks to them, others have now achieved religious freedom as well!"