Florida attorney general orders Lauderdale condo association to change rule

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Published April 5, 2007


Just in time for Passover, Laurie Richter won the right to keep her mezuzah on the doorpost of her rented Fort Lauderdale condominium.

But that's not good enough for Attorney General Bill McCollum. He gave the association at The Port Condominium, in the 1800 block of Southeast 17th Street, until 5 p.m. today to change its rules so all its Jewish residents can hang mezuzahs.

Mezuzahs are small cases containing religious messages. They are traditionally placed on the doorposts of Jewish homes.

"Our interest extends beyond Ms. Richter," said Allison K. Bethel, director of the attorney general's civil rights division. "We represent the public interest, which includes the right of all Jewish residents there now or in the future to display mezuzahs in accordance with their religion."

"A resolution [by the board] that allows only Ms. Richter to display her mezuzah does not satisfy the public interest," Bethel said.

Neither condo board president Ronni L. Rosenberg nor association attorney Henry Howell Fox could be reached for comment.

The association's rule prohibits anyone from attaching, hanging, affixing or displaying anything on the exterior walls, doors, balconies and windows, which are considered common property controlled by the association.

Richter, 28, a lawyer, rented the two-bedroom apartment on Dec. 1 and, using double-sided tape to prevent damage to the paint, put the mezuzah on the doorpost. She said she didn't consider it a violation of the rules because she saw Christmas wreaths on other doors.

Shortly afterward, the condo association ordered her to remove the mezuzah.

Incensed, she contacted newspapers and television stations. Eventually, her case received national coverage.

The board on March 26 told her she could keep the mezuzah but did not give a reason. The rule applied only in her case.

Richter said the board's response was too limited.

"The whole point all along was to make sure they don't impinge on peoples' rights," she said. "I didn't want to see other condo associations statewide acting like this, and apparently my goal hasn't been reached yet."

McCollum's letter asks The Port board to respond to his demand by the close of business today.

What he will do if he isn't satisfied could not be determined.

"I can't speculate at this point, but it's not an issue we'll be dropping," said his spokeswoman, Sandi Copes. "We're prepared to continue with whatever action is appropriate."

Meanwhile, Miami-based U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta on Wednesday said he is keeping an eye on the case.

"There is a principle at stake here that goes beyond any individual," he said. "We have assigned an attorney in the Fort Lauderdale office to take a careful look at the facts and determine if a federal lawsuit would be appropriate."

Lauderdale condo bans religious symbol on doorposts -- The Port Condominium