$1.2 million judgment against retirees is reversed
Article Courtesy of the Miami Herald

Published: Wed, Nov. 27, 2002

A group of Tamarac retirees should not have to pay a $1.2 million court verdict that bankrupted their homeowners' association, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The Westwood Community Two Association filed for federal bankruptcy protection in 1997, after a court found that the group's board had, in effect, discriminated against some younger people who wanted to move in.

Although Florida law allows some homeowners' associations to restrict ownership to retirees, Westwood Two was not set up to take advantage of these provisions.

The group was found to have violated state and federal Fair Housing laws, and ordered to pay $1.2 million in damages.

Unable to pay, the group sought Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

To pay the bill, the bankruptcy trustee sent a letter to all 214 Westwood Two homeowners charging them with a special one-time assessment of $7,250.

Some of the residents got together, hired a lawyer and appealed.

On Tuesday, U.S. Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks ruled that the trustee overstepped his authority in levying the special assessment. He also canceled most of the $1.2 million judgment.

Many Westwood residents already had paid the assessment, however.

The money then made its way to the plaintiffs from the fair-housing case.

Paul Avron, an attorney for the residents, said he and his colleagues would try to get that money returned to the homeowners.

Most of the residents had nothing to do with their board's decision to discriminate.

''These are mostly elderly people with fixed incomes,'' Avron said.