Florida resident battles case of confiscated mezuza

Condominium association refused to allow mezuza, despite letting others hang Christmas wreaths.

mezuza 88 (photo credit: Jerusalem Post )
mezuza 88
(photo credit: Jerusalem Post )
A Florida resident says her condominium association is violating her right to religious freedom and discriminating against her by demanding that she take down her mezuza. Laurie Richter hung a mezuza on her front doorpost when she began renting a condo at The Port, a luxury complex in Fort Lauderdale, in December. At the end of January, the condo management told her to take it down because residents are prohibited from displaying objects in common spaces. Richter, who noted that several Christmas wreaths had been placed on doors without incident, one of which remained until early February, replied that she was required to hang the mezuza by Jewish law. Herself a lawyer, she argued that Florida law protected such an act even if it was in technical breach of the condo's rules. The condo association was not convinced and repeated its demand that the mezuza be removed, according to e-mails Richter provided The Jerusalem Post. When she was first told to remove the mezuza, Richter said she was "dumbfounded." "I definitely wouldn't have moved in if I had known that I couldn't hang a mezuza," she said. Richter said the penalty could include a fine of up to $1,000 or eviction. She also said she had been denied a hearing with the board because as a renter, she doesn't have standing for such a proceeding. In the meantime, she's sought legal advice and appealed to area politicians. The office of Rep. Ron Klein (D.-Florida), in whose district Richter resides, has contacted the condominium association but hasn't yet succeeded in speaking to anyone there. Klein spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod said the representative felt moved to look into Richter's situation because "any time there's any kind of discrimination, [based on] religion or race, occurring in the congressman's district, it's something that concerns him." The condo association and management wouldn't speak to the Post, referring media queries to the association's lawyer. He, too, refused to comment on the case. The unit's owner also wouldn't discuss the matter. In the section of the condominium guidelines sent to Richter, however, it specifies: "A residential unit owner or occupant shall not cause anything to be affixed or attached to, hung, displayed or placed on the exterior walls, doors, balconies, railings or windows of the building." Richter said that to use this clause to prohibit the hanging of a mezuza "is clearly discriminatory" since it would keep Jews from practicing their religion, which mandates placing a mezuza at the door. That, she argued, violates Florida antidiscrimination statutes. "It doesn't seem like this is kosher," she said. In one of her letters to the condominium association, she pointed to research concluding that 87 percent of Jews living in Florida hang mezuzot. The Anti-Defamation League's southern area director, Art Teitelbaum, said that when this issue has arisen in the past, it has generally been easy to resolve by talking with the management of condominiums. Howard Dakoff, a Chicago lawyer who represented Illinois residents facing a similar predicament, said prohibiting mezuzot also goes against federal housing law that prohibits religious discrimination in housing and requires that reasonable accommodation be given when applying condominium regulations. He said the banning of mezuzot by condominium associations was "tantamount to anti-Semitism." In Illinois, Dakoff helped push for a state law, enacted this January, which guarantees the rights of Jews to put up mezuzot in condominiums.•