August 3, 2010

Civil Rights and Nuisance Claims Result in Massive Judgments Against Homeowners Association

In June, a Boston jury awarded Scott J. Hyman and Donald and Julie Prescott judgments with a combined value of over $2.5 million against their homeowners association. The owners' successful legal claims were based on nuisance and infringement of civil rights. This case serves as a reminder of the robust legal remedies (including those contained in the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act) available to address misconduct by and in community associations.

Mr. Hyman, who is Jewish, was told by members of the homeowners association’s board of directors that his kind was not welcome in the community. He was denied the right to vote on association matters. Someone smeared excrement over his living room. Shortly after an association member mentioned that “someone is going to burn him out”, Mr. Hyman's primary residence (located elsewhere) was destroyed by fire. The Prescotts stood up for him and were similarly victimized. Mr. Hyman and the Prescotts had swastikas painted on their garages and were photographed hundreds of times. This pattern of harassment persisted for two years.

Condominium and homeowners association boards can subject their associations and their members to civil liability through both action and inaction. Boards should be careful to avoid taking actions that are inconsistent with applicable statutes, their association's governing documents, or a legal duty owed to another person. Boards should also give due consideration to owner complaints and known information and take action when they have a legal duty to do so. The association’s attorney can help the board evaluate how to respond to problems as they arise.