NJ Division on Civil Rights Announces Settlement of Claim that Homeowners Association Failed to Accommodate Religious Beliefs
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights announced today a settlement that resolves allegations of religion-based housing discrimination brought by an Orthodox Jewish homeowner against an Ocean County 55-and-over community.
The homeowner, Nathan Reiss, filed a discrimination complaint in 2017 against The Enclave at the Fairways in Lakewood, alleging that security measures at the adult community interfered with his ability -- and the ability of his fellow Orthodox Jewish neighbors -- to observe the Sabbath. Specifically, Reiss alleged, a locking electronic pedestrian gate at a community entrance near his home prevented Orthodox Jewish Sabbath observers from walking to synagogue. Officials say as a member of the Orthodox Jewish religion, Reiss noted in his complaint, he observes the Sabbath from sundown on Fridays through sundown on Saturdays. During the Sabbath, he is forbidden from driving in a car and using electricity, including an electronic key card or key fob. According to authorities, Reiss claimed that he was prevented from walking to synagogue on the Sabbath because the locked electronic pedestrian gate at his complex required an electronic key card. Reiss said he and his Orthodox neighbors were at one time able to exit and re-enter on foot by “ducking under” a vehicle gate at the same entrance. In 2017, however, The Enclave’s Homeowners’ Association announced installation of a new vehicle gate – one that precluded such access. As a result, both drivers and those on foot could only enter or exit using an electronic card. Officials say Reiss subsequently filed a complaint, alleging that he and other Orthodox Jewish residents of The Enclave were hindered in their ability to walk to synagogue (and otherwise enter or exit the complex) during the Sabbath, as their religion does not allow them to use the required electronic key card.
Under the settlement announced today and a similar settlement reached in a case filed in federal court, the Enclave Homeowners Association has agreed to unlock the pedestrian gate on the Sabbath, and to make other scheduling accommodations for Jewish Holy Days. “This settlement should serve as a reminder to housing associations, condo associations and co-ops across New Jersey that being sensitive to the religious beliefs and observances of their residents is not only the right thing to do, it is the law,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The Law Against Discrimination requires housing providers, including private communities, condos and co-ops, to accommodate their residents’ religious beliefs unless doing so would be an undue burden on their operations,” said Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter. “The settlement in this case allows Orthodox residents to fully observe the Sabbath without unduly burdening the housing association’s security concerns.” In his original complaint to the Division, Nathan Reiss also objected to a change in Enclave policy regarding the issuance of visitor guest passes. Previously, the complaint noted, Enclave residents could place a telephone call days in advance of the Sabbath to advise guards they would be hosting a temporary guest, and to register that guest’s name. The Enclave, however, changed its rules in 2017 to permit only “same day” guest pass requests, making it impossible for Reiss and other Orthodox residents to obtain passes for guests on Saturdays or holidays, Reiss claimed. Under the settlement announced today, the Homeowners’ Association agrees to provide an exception to its “same day notice” guest policy for the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Division on Civil Rights Investigator Adriana Tovar handled the Enclave matter on behalf of the State.