Property Manager Was Off the Hook for FHA Violation
There are many rewards for community association managers, who get to see satisfied members enjoying a lifestyle they’ve chosen by buying a home or condominium unit in a planned community. However, there are some risks, like when a member or other party sues an association manager for alleged wrongdoing. The outcome in a recent case where an association manager was accused of involvement in illegal discrimination should give some peace of mind to professional managers though. Here’s why:
Facts of the Case
A condominium owner sued the property manager of the building’s association, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) because the manager had attempted to enforce rules regarding the owner’s emotional support dog. Despite the association’s rule that no unit owner may appropriate the common elements for her own use, the owner had installed an underground invisible fence within the common elements of the condominium to dispense with the need to walk or constrain her emotional support dog while it was outside her home.
The association initiated an arbitration proceeding against the owner, seeking an order requiring her removal of the invisible fence. The owner claimed that the manager violated the FHA by: (1) failing to reasonably accommodate her need for an invisible fence to constrain her emotional support dog; and (2) failing to make modifications to the condominium property to accommodate her need for an invisible fence.
The property manager asked a court for a judgment in her favor without a trial. She asserted that she couldn’t be held personally liable for any FHA violations. A Florida trial court ruled in favor of the property manager.
The Court’s Reasoning
The court concluded that the property manager hadn’t personally assisted or contributed to any FHA violations. It explained that while discrimination under the FHA includes “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,” there was no evidence that the manager was personally liable.
The court noted that the manager had no personal involvement with the association’s refusal to accommodate the invisible fence because the association, through its board members, concluded that the owner’s invisible fence was in violation of its rules; the association directed the manager to send violation letters requesting that the owner remove the invisible fence; and the association’s board voted to refer the matter to its attorney after the owner failed to comply with the two violation letters.
Property managers who are acting at the behest of an association or its attorneys can’t be personally liable for “ministerial” functions, such as sending correspondence, that they perform as part of their professional duties [Sheets v. Sorrento Villas, October 2016].