Condo Accused of Religious Ban Offers Revised Policy

Article Courtesy of The Daily Business Review
By Lidia Dinkova

Published April 7, 2018

A condominium association accused of Fair Housing Act violations after prohibiting prayer and religious meetings in common areas wants to change course.

Cambridge House instead wants to prohibit daily, weekly and monthly gatherings for support and special interest groups, clubs, therapy sessions and seminars if the meetings include outsiders and don’t have a written condo board approval, according to a proposed resolution.

The issue at the Port Charlotte community was sparked by a conflict between a pair of unit owners and other residents.

Donna Dunbar is a lay minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church who led two-hour women’s Bible study groups on Monday mornings in the condo’s social room with about 10 women, including nonresidents, according to a discrimination complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A HUD investigator assigned to the complaint emailed Dunbar’s legal team April 4.

Greenberg Traurig shareholder Adam Foslid in Miami and First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based legal organization that works on religious freedom cases, filed the complaint March 6 and amended it March 28 to address the proposed condo resolution. A vote is tentatively set for Monday.

The change would delete all explicit references to religion and prayer. But Foslid said the revised policy is just a less direct method of discriminating against Dunbar and her Bible study group and still violates the Fair Housing Act.

“It’s very clear what’s going on here,” he said. “The events leading up to this proposed resolution are obviously instructive as to the motivation underlying the amended resolution.”

The complaint is against the Cambridge House of Port Charlotte — a Condominium Inc. and its management company, The Gateway Group Inc.

The initial resolution passed Feb. 6, and Gateway voided it March 13, according to First Liberty fellow Lea Patterson. But she said no written notice of a retraction was issued.

The resolution violated state law because the meeting on adoption wasn’t properly noticed, the complaint said. The issue wasn’t on the meeting agenda, and residents weren’t notified it would come up for a vote, according to the complaint.

The Cambridge House and Gateway didn’t return requests for comment by deadline.

The conflict with Dunbar and her husband, Clarence Dunbar, started last year.

The association’s insurance agent said at a January 2017 board meeting that common rooms can’t be used by nonresidents without proof of insurance from the meeting sponsor, according to a letter from the condo board to the Dunbars.

The June 1, 2017, letter from condo board president Joe Pruitt laid out some of the background on the policy. It stated a notice was posted to say the Bible study meeting wasn’t approved and the notice disappeared.

“We also pointed out that the rooms’ purpose was for residents’ use and not that of other organizations. The notice that the activity was not approved was removed without authority,” Pruitt wrote. “We do not appreciate this type of action.”

Others who use the social room have nonresidents present but weren’t required to obtain insurance for their meetings, according to the HUD complaint.

The Dunbars responded with a June 7, 2017, letter saying they purchased insurance for the meetings, but the Bible study group isn’t an organization, and they only saw the posted notice after it was taken down.

“We are no different than the other groups that meet here,” the Dunbars wrote. “There is also card night that meets three times a week with friends from the house and outside. The whole square is set up this way, the tennis courts has two people from our condo and six people from outside of our complex that play there.”

First Liberty Files HUD Complaint Against Florida Condominium Association for Religious Liberty Violation