BOCA RATON – The governing association of a Boca Raton condominium complex faces a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit seeking release of documents that could help prove whether it illegally blocked a nurse from renting a condo because she could have been exposed to COVID-19.

The Boca View Condominium Association was accused by a unit owner, Greta Tremmel, of refusing to allow Jennifer Piraino, an intensive care unit nurse, to move to the property with her young daughter in April 2020. The complex’ covenants require association approval of all rental agreements, court records state.

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, a person with COVID-19 is considered to have a disability and falls into a protected status, according to the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, which investigates housing discrimination complaints for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Protected status can also extend to someone who is associated with people who have a disability, the suit states.

The complaint names as defendants the association, its president, an administrator, its management company and a property manager. The complex is located at 1000 Spanish River Road, between the Intracoastal Waterway and the ocean.

JoAnn Burnett, an attorney representing the association, could not be immediately reached for comment about the case.

Reached by phone on Monday, Tremmel predicted that the association would lose the case after treating the nurse “like a piece of garbage and throwing her to the street.”

“She will win hands down. She will win this after all of the [association’s] denials are negated.”

Tremmel said Piraino, a nurse at Westside Regional Medical Center in Plantation, submitted her rental application and a $100 fee in April 2020 and was called a few days later by a manager who said the company wouldn’t process her application.

When Piraino asked why, the woman said it was because of “everything going on in the world.” When Piraino asked why again, the woman just replied, “Well, with everything going on,” Tremmel said.

Tremmel filed a complaint with HUD in May 2020, and HUD then asked the association repeatedly for information it said would be necessary to determine whether it illegally discriminated against Piraino.

According to a petition filed in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach on Jan. 27, the association has failed to produce records demanded by the HUD office in five administrative subpoenas issued by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

The office initially sought a list of all tenants who moved into the property between March 15, 2020, and November 9, 2020. But the association responded that it was prohibited by state law from disclosing information obtained during the leasing process.

Meetings of association board minutes, similarly, are only available to unit owners who ask to examine them, the association said.

HUD later asked the association to produce copies of rental or sales applications between March 1, 2020, and January 8, 2021, as well as copies of minutes of all association meetings between March 2020 and November 23, 2020.

Boca View is represented by the law firm Becker & Poliakoff, which specializes in condominium law. An investigative report by the South Florida Sun Sentinel last Sept. 28 recounted numerous legal battles between the Boca View association and unit owners that typically resulted in protracted litigation and the unit owners receiving bills demanding tens of thousands of dollars for Becker’s legal fees.

Rather than turning over the records requested by HUD, the association filed motions to quash the subpoenas, arguing that HUD had failed to meet the elements required to enforce them.

In a Dec. 2 email filed with the newest complaint, association attorney Burnett argued with HUD investigators that Tremmel had no legal standing to file her complaint.

“There is no disabled person,” Burnett wrote. “Even assuming Ms. Tremmel’s allegations were true – which the Association vehemently denies – she is unable to succeed because she is not a member of a protected class, nor is she associated with a person with a disability.”

But the newest complaint filed by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chantel R. Doakes and Veronica Harrell-James argues that the records are necessary to show whether the association told the truth when it said that no leases were approved and no one was allowed to move to the property from mid-March 2020 to mid-June 2020, when the complex was under quarantine and shelter-in-place orders.

Tremmel, by phone, said HUD has evidence that the board allowed other tenants to move in at around the same time it turned down Piraino.

HUD referred the matter to the Department of Justice in August “to initiate proceedings to obtain [the association’s] compliance.”

Tremmel said she hoped the matter would be settled soon.