Lauderdale condo bans religious symbol on doorposts

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
By Joe Kollin

Published February 3, 2007

 

FORT LAUDERDALE Laurie Richter says Jewish law requires her to attach a mezuzah to her doorpost.

But the board that runs The Port condominium, in the 1800 block of Southeast 17th Street, says displaying the 5-inch-long case with a religious message inside violates the condo documents and has ordered it removed.

Because wreaths were allowed on doors during Christmas, Richter accuses her board of discrimination.

"I don't want to be causing any rifts here so Christians can't hang wreaths, but it seems the rights of Jewish people are being violated because Christians don't have to hang wreaths but we have to hang mezuzahs," she said.

The association that runs the 16-story, 129-unit condo cites the bylaws that prohibit owners and occupants from attaching, hanging, affixing or displaying anything on the exterior walls, doors, balconies, railings and windows of the building.

Neither the association's president, Ronni L. Rosenberg, nor its community association manager, Marcy L. Kravit, could be reached for comment despite several attempts by phone.

Richter, 28, an attorney, moved into the two-bedroom apartment as a renteron Dec. 1. She put up the mezuzah using double-sided tape to avoid permanent damage to the building, she said, but was immediately told to remove it.

"I really didn't think that kind of thing happens anymore," she said. "To treat people different like that should not be tolerated.''

She has demanded the Anti-Defamation League take action, but Art Teitelbaum, its Miami-based southern area director, suggested the two sides work together.

"It's clear from daily experience in Broward County condos that this is an issue that is resolvable without causing bruised feelings or any diminishing of the quality of life in condos," he said.

To impose a fine, which most likely would be on the apartment owner rather than Richter, the board must provide 14 days notice of a hearing, according to the bylaws. Then a committee of non-directors would hear the case and decide in 21days.

If a fine were imposed, the maximum would be $100 a day, up to $1,000. Fines can't become liens, so the only way for the board to force collection would be a lawsuit.

The unit's owner, Richard J. Scrabis, an attorney who lives elsewhere in Fort Lauderdale, said he doesn't know yet what he will do and hadn't discussed the issue with Richter.

"If they fine me, I'll have to look to her for payment," said Scrabis, who bought the unit in July 2005.

Condo legal expert Gary Poliakoff, whose law firm represents 4,200 associations in Florida, said 99 percent of associations allow mezuzahs or "make accommodations in an effort to be tolerant."

But associations that allow them, he said, must accommodate other religions as well.

Ira Sheskin, a University of Miami demographer who tracks the Jewish population, said a recent poll found that 79 percent of respondents in Broward have mezuzahs on their front doors, 87 percent have them in southern Palm Beach County, 83 percent in West Palm Beach and 82 percent in Miami.

Richter said she has been in contact with the manager and president to seek a resolution.

But would she pay a fine if it comes to that?

"I'll cross that bridge when we get there," she said.

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