April 23, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:05 pm
THE ARTFUL STRATEGIST

Governing condo complex an exercise in slow torture

The theological study of Hell wouldn't be complete without including condominium governance.

Short of being on a local school board, there are few assignments that the Devil could trick you into accepting that would subject you to as much anguish as a condo board.

Shall you "fix up the place," by hiring a high-end handy guy, who will charge you $50 trillion to do the job right — and then vote on the assessment among the warring factions, including the old-timers who would rather go to Home Depot, buy a screwdriver, and do the work themselves?

Shall you allow each owner to have one pet, as long as it is a non-yappy dog? Shall the weight of the pet be limited? Are indoor cats subject to less governance than outdoor creatures?

The pool is too warm. No, no, it's better that way. Put a lock on the thermostat. Who keeps the key?

Shall we fly the American flag on July 4? Every day? Who will dispose of it, according to the laws of Man and God and the American Legion, when it starts looking shabby?

Flamingoes? You want flamingoes? What do you think this is, a Saturday Night Live segment? According to the condo bylaws, you may display nothing that is pink. Or purple. Or wind chimes. Definitely, no wind chimes. Unless, they don't chime.

But, of course, there is nothing so breathtakingly awful for the board and its constituents than the Great Mezuzah War.

It pops up on occasion across the country, leading to unpleasant litigation, unattractive publicity, and hurt feelings all around.

The latest example has erupted in Stratford, where the California Condo Association has threatened a $50-a-day fine against an owner who is hanging a mezuzah (a Jewish decorative case, holding versus from the Torah inside) on her doorpost.

According to California Condo Association bylaw 57-dash 5, subparagraph two, line 8, owners can hang religious items on their doors, but not on the door frames. So there.

A law firm is involved. The Anti-Defamation League is involved. Soon, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities will be involved, unless they hide and lock their doors.

The "mezuzah" cases involving condo governance are inevitably a messy business, often settled through a compromise that tries very hard to shut everyone up, if not make everyone happy.

Are religious "decorations" (very observant Jews do not consider the mezuzah a decorative option, but a requirement) subject to less condo regulation than the proverbial pink flamingo? Is this in fact subtle anti-Semitism, or merely another small piece of the condo governance nightmare?

In 2007, the Florida Attorney General intervened in a Ft. Lauderdale condo mezuzah fight, threatening all sides with capital punishment if they didn't settle down. The condo board agreed to allow residents to attach mezuzahs to door posts.

In 2008, the Civil Rights Division of the Broward County (Fla.) Office of Equal Opportunity slapped around another condo board for banning the doorpost mezuzah.

The most high-visibility case in recent years, involving a condo association in Chicago, staggered from the Chicago Commission on Human Rights to the Illinois Department of Human Rights to the state's Attorney General, all the way up to a U.S. District Court judge, who in 2011 issued decrees like the mighty hand of God, prohibiting the condo board from retaliating or interfering or discriminating or even breathing — and then bludgeoning both sides into a settlement, the terms of which weren't disclosed.

The Stratford case? There's a special place in Heaven reserved for whoever makes it go away, with a mezuzah hanging quietly on a doorpost.

Laurence D. Cohen is a freelance writer.

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