Florida Condo Bans Mezuzahs: Christmas Wreaths But Not Mezuzahs

February 09, 2007

By Douglas Wertheimer, Editor

Jewish Chicagoans who long to escape frigid Chicago winters and who yearn to buy that luxury Florida condo with the gorgeous ocean view may want to think twice — or at least carefully read the small print — before putting any money down.

That’s because while condo associations are now precluded by law in Chicago and in Illinois from preventing tenants from placing exterior mezuzahs on their doorposts (Jewish Star, April 28, 2006), there are no such regulations in Florida.

And that’s caused Laurie Richter one big headache. Richter, 28, rents in The Port, a luxury, 16-storey condo building in Fort Lauderdale with units starting at about $500,000.

When she moved in last December, she affixed a mezuzah to the exterior doorpost with velcro. No sooner had she done that than she was informed that condo association rules prohibited residents from attaching anything on what is generally considered to be the common areas of the building.

That meant no mezuzahs — or a maximum daily fine of $100 (not to exceed $1,000). Richter was upset.

First, as a self-described “observant Reform” Jew, affixing a mezuzah was a non-negotiable act for her. “Had I known about the mezuzah ban prior to moving in,” she wrote the Jewish Star this week in an email, “I never would have even considered living at The Port.”

Secondly, Richter saw that while she was told that mezuzahs were forbidden, other tenants had no difficulty placing wreaths — “temporary religious decorative ornaments” — on their doors.

Though not looking for a fight, Richter felt hurt by the “intolerance” of The Port condo association, and their “discriminatory practice”.

“It makes me feel as though Jews are not welcome to live in my building,” she told the Jewish Star.

Richter, who is a lawyer by profession, next wrote a “compelling letter” to the board on Jan. 24 explaining the Jewish religious requirements mandating the placement of mezuzahs.

The result: the four page letter, she says, “was denied point blank.”

The Jewish Star sought comment by email from Marcy L. Kravit, the community association manager at The Port. No response was received.

Disappointed with the condo’s response, Richter next turned to the local ADL (which recommended that she work with the board) and then to the media.

She got a nearly two minute spot on WSVN Channel 7 (Fox News), followed by an accurate and thorough report on her story from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Simultaneously, she has reached out for legal assistance. In Miami, Barry D. Lapides, a commercial real estate attorney with an expertise in condo and homeowners associations, has begun to assist Richter.

He told the Jewish Star this week that he wants to see the association rule rescinded, and then have the State of Florida adopt a law relating to mezuzahs similar to the ones in Illinois.

And Howard Dakoff, the veteran warrior who played a leading role in defeating the condo mezuzah bans in Chicago, has offered to join Richter’s side.

Dakoff, an expert in condo law at the Chicago firm of Levenfeld Pearlstein, told the Jewish Star this week that he was “saddened to learn” about developments in Florida.

“Outlandishly, this Florida condominium association allowed Christmas wreaths this past Christmas, but now refuses to allow Ms. Richter to erect a small mezuzah on her doorpost.”

“We intend to provide legal guidance to Ms. Richter to assist with her legal challenges to this egregious act,” he said.

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