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United States: Court Rules Fair Housing Act Protects Condominium Residents from Religious Discrimination

(Dec. 17, 2009) A U.S. federal appellate court has ruled that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects from religious discrimination not only purchasers of a home at the time of sale, but also existing residents of a condominium building who experience discrimination post-sale.

The case involved alleged religious discrimination by a condominium association and its president against longtime Jewish residents of a condominium building in Chicago. For three decades, members of the Bloch family, who are observant Jews, lived in three units of the Shoreline Towers condominiums and displayed mezuzot, small cases holding tiny torah scrolls, on the exterior doorposts of their homes. In 2001, the condo association enacted a rule that forbids the placement of objects outside unit doors. However, the association did not remove mezuzot from doors or doorposts until mid-2004, during a hallway renovation in which doors were repainted. After the repainting, the Blochs put their mezuzot back up, but the association, without notice, began removing and confiscating the mezuzot, as well as other types of objects placed on doors.

The Blochs continued to place mezuzot on their doorposts and petitioned the association to stop removing their mezuzot, explaining their religious significance, but the association continued to remove them. The board displayed evidence of anti-Semitic animus, such as holding board meetings on Friday evenings to intentionally exclude the Shabbat-observant Blochs, and even removing the mezuzot against the specific request of the Blochs during the Shivah mourning period for a Bloch family member who had died.

The Blochs filed a lawsuit under the FHA and other laws. The district court granted summary judgment to the association on the FHA claims, concluding that the FHA only applies to discrimination at the time of sale of housing. The Blochs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Initially, a panel of the Seventh Circuit, over one judge's dissent, agreed with the district court that the FHA only applied to discrimination at the time of sale. However, the Seventh Circuit agreed to rehear the case en banc.

The court sitting en banc ruled that two FHA provisions provide causes of action for victims of housing discrimination for events occurring post-sale. First, the court ruled that section 3604 (b) of volume 42 of the U.S. Code, which prohibits discrimination in the conditions of sale of housing, covers condominium rules like those at issue here, because one condition of a condominium's sale is the authority of the condominium board to enact rules that restrict buyers' rights post-sale. Second, the court ruled that that 42 U.S.C. § 3617, which forbids discriminatory “interference” with fair housing rights, gives rise to a cause of action against condominium associations' discriminatory interference with an owners' right to inhabit a condominium unit. The court remanded the case to enable the Blochs to proceed to trial. (Bloch v. Frischholz, No. 06-3376 (Nov. 13, 2009), available at