Reasonable Accommodation

Much like for religious beliefs, special arrangements may need to be made to preserve the rights of those with handicaps. The protections provided by the Fair Housing Act require that a disabled person be allowed to make physical modifications to their home and exceptions to housing related policies as needed to “afford such person full enjoyment of the premises”:

(3) For purposes of this subsection, discrimination includes–

(A) a refusal to permit, at the expense of the handicapped person, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises, except that, in the case of a rental, the landlord may where it is reasonable to do so condition permission for a modification on the renter agreeing to restore the interior of the premises to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted.

(B) a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling;

A recent letter (shown below) sent by an attorney retained by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz, a handicapped homeowner in the Westlake Golf & Country Club of Jackson, details the rabbi’s travails in trying to get the homeowners association to afford him full enjoyment of his house. If allowed access to an existing gate in a common area, it would enable him to attend religious services without pushing his wheelchair on a busy road. His requests to build a screened porch which could be used for religious observance were denied, despite other houses having a similar porch. And recently, the association bylaws were amended in a manner that would seem to prevent him from worshipping with a group at in his home:

1.38 (New) “Residential purposes” shall mean used solely as a place to live. Holding or conducting regular meetings, presentations, assemblies or other gatherings, to which members of the public are invited, shall not constitute a residential purpose and are prohibited. For purposes of this restriction “members of the public” shall mean individuals other than personal friends and members of a resident’s family.

Now, we’re sure there are perfectly perfunctory reasons for all this: the gate was intended for emergency vehicles only, screened porches are only allowed on some models of homes in Westlake but not others, and the association board had a sudden but unrelated need to clarify the word “residential” in their bylaws.

But to what end does the homeowners association continue to deny what seem like otherwise reasonable accommodations to a disabled resident?

New Lawsuit Filed Against Jackson Township

Religious discrimination and harassment alleged by new suit.

As reported this morning by the Asbury Park Press, a new religious discrimination lawsuit has been filed in federal court against Jackson Township, this time by a private homeowner. The suit alleges that Council President Robert Nixon and various unidentified township employees worked together under the guise of zoning enforcement to stalk and harass the occupants of a home in Jackson for doing nothing more than hosting prayer services, in violation of the US Constitution, the NJ Constitution and RLUIPA. This seems to be entirely distinct from the lawsuit filed by Agudath Israel last year over school, dormitory and eruv bans.

The complaint filed in court is available below:

Lawsuit Update: Amended Complaint Accepted

At 4:00 PM today, Agudath Israel’s amendment to their lawsuit against the Township of Jackson was accepted by the court, despite Jackson’s objection. This change adds new allegations of discrimination related to the township’s ban on eruvin to the existing lawsuit. Note that this does not mean the court has ruled on the content of Agudath Israel’s arguments, just that they will be allowed to make an argument.

The judge’s order is below.