Not necessarily. The Fair Housing Act provides no remedy for neutral restrictions.

In September 2001, the Shoreline Towers Condominium Association adopted rules prohibiting mats, boots or objects of any sort be left sitting outside owners’ unit entry doors. The rules also banned signs on doors or in hallways. The rules were not initially enforced against religious symbols. When the hallways were repainted in 2004, all religious objects were removed in preparation for the painting. At that time, the association’s board interpreted the rules to prohibit religious (as well as other) items and ordered the maintenance staff to keep the hallways and doors clear.

When the hallway painting was completed, the residents replaced their mezuzah on the doorpost, according to Jewish tradition. The mezuzah was removed by the association because of the rule.

The residents filed suit under §§804 and 817 of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§3604, 3617, and one of the implementing regulations, 24 C.F.R. §100.400(c)(2). By the time of their lawsuit, the association had adopted a religious exception to the rules, but the residents sought damages for distress they claimed in the interim, plus an injunction to prevent the association from removing religious symbols in the future. The District Court (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to the condominium association. The residents appealed.

The Seventh Circuit noted that the Fair Housing Act addresses discrimination in the sale or rental of a dwelling, not discrimination after the sale. Religiously motivated harassment must be addressed, if at all, under different laws. The Court concluded that religious harassment so severe as to make a dwelling unavailable on religious grounds might be actionable under the Fair Housing Act, but here the rules were religion neutral—they targeted all objects, not just religious objects.

The residents sought a religious exception to the rules, which they described as an accommodation. According to the Court, however, the Fair Housing Act does not provide a remedy for the failure to make accommodations on the basis of a particular religion.

The majority held that deciding whether a religious accommodation must be required and how far the obligation extends is a task for the legislature. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Acts stops with land use and prisons.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court. The case is Bloch v. Frischholz, 533 F.3d 562 (7th Cir. 2008).  According to this Court, the Fair Housing Act requires accommodations for disabilities but not for religious beliefs and practices.

As this case proves once again, issues dealing with religion are among the most personal and emotional.  Apartment management companies and their employees must work to ensure that all religions are respected and treated appropriately.

Just A Thought.