Mezuzah Case: Condo Association Bylaw vs. Jewish Practice

Courtesy of Barbara CadranelThe case of a Connecticut woman who's being fined for affixing a mezuzah to her condo's doorframe pits the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom against a condo association's bylaws -- and so far, the condo association isn't backing down.

Neither is Barbara Cadranel: Though the California Condo Association in Stratford, Conn., is threatening to impose a $50-a-day fine until the tiny religious scroll in its small, decorative box is removed, the 60-year-old tenant is fighting to be able to practice a required Jewish rite.

In her opinion, she's being discriminated against, and she may be right. Her neighbors have been freely allowed to hang Easter wreathes and crucifixes on their doors. The difference, though, is that the California Condo Association allows for door adornments, but claims its rules prohibit hanging anything on the doorframe, where Jewish law explicitly requires a mezuzah be hung.

Mezuzah discrimination

That's a very pointed attack on religious rights, says Cadranel's lawyer, Alyza Lewin of Lewin & Lewin LLP in Washington, D.C.

"They allow everything -- they don't have a problem as long as it's not on the doorframe," Lewin said. "They make a distinction between the door and the doorpost, and the one item with any regularity that you'll see on the doorpost is a mezuzah. That's a rule that is targeting mezuzahs without saying it explicitly."

Bending A Definition

Beyond that, Lewin alleges, even the condo association's claim that the bylaw in question applies to doorframes is a stretch.

"It prohibits her from putting anything on the exterior walls, but in the text, the exterior walls clearly refer to the outside of the building -- the awnings, for example -- and have nothing to do with interior walls," Lewin said. "They're squeezing in the doorpost as an exterior wall. It seems as if they're trying to force this definition in order to come up with some justification."

Though there's nothing cited specifically about the inside hallways -- where the units' doors are -- the condo association has been pushing that interpretation to make its case. Yet the bylaws, which enumerate what belongs to each individual owner, explicitly identify windows, window screens and screen doors as part of the condominium unit. Given that, it's baffling that the doorframe wouldn't be included, according to Lewin.

"The idea that the screen door -- but not the door frame -- is a part of the unit, that would probably come as a surprise to the people at Home Depot people selling you a door," she said.

Exclusion Beyond Aesthetics

Given that the small glass mezuzah (secured in place by Velcro) is neither a safety hazard nor an eyesore, Lewin says, she can only interpret this to be a case of discrimination. That would put the California Condo Association in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act.

"You're saying that the only people who can live here cannot put up a mezuzah," Lewin said. "The condominium is saying that observant Jews aren't welcome to live here."

The Anti-Defamation League has also rallied behind Cadranel to protect her rights.

"Requiring it to be taken down is tantamount to requiring a Jewish person to move," said Randi Pincus, assistant director of the Connecticut regional office of the ADL. "In effect, it's to exclude people of a certain background from living there."

Pincus said that mezuzah cases crop up every few years. And legal precedents have been set indicating that Cadranel is likely to win her case if it goes to court. In 2009, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Bloch v. Frischholz that a condo rule prohibiting an owner from affixing a mezuzah violated various federal prohibitions against religious discrimination in housing.

There's another type of religious housing case that has cropped up in the courts and in the news in recent years. Some groups have fought against the rights of Orthodox Jews to put up an eruv -- a ritual enclosure line that surrounds a community. Usually created by running thin, virtually invisible fishing wire from the tops of utility poles and streetlamps, an eruv makes it legal (under Jewish law) for a religiously observant person to perform certain activities outside during the Sabbath that would otherwise be forbidden: carrying a cane, for example, or pushing a stroller.

And as with the mezuzah, whatever antagonism arises over an eruv seems aimed less at its actual, physical presence -- which can go almost undetected -- and more at the people who need it.

"Unless you know that the eruv is there, the casual observer won't notice it," Lewin said. "It's not as if the opposition to it is not an aesthetic one. There's some concern that if there's an eruv in the area, there's a thought that the Orthodox Jews who require this will move in and the community will be overrun by a certain type of person."

Said Pincus: "Any case where there's an issue of trying to take regulations and adjust them as necessary to accommodate religious practice, every effort should be made. Especially in the case of the mezuzah: It's not harming anyone, and it's very unobtrusive."

Staying Strong

If the condominium association does not agree to allow the mezuzah, Lewin said that she will file complaint on behalf of Cadranel with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

Cadranel is weathering the storm.

"By allowing those displays but prohibiting my small mezuzah, they have made me -- as a Jew -- feel very unwelcome," Cadranel told AOL Real Estate. "I have felt bullied and intimidated. I think the distinction they are making between the door and the doorpost is bogus."

"It's made her feel rather unwelcome," said Lewin, "but at the moment she has no plans of leaving, and no plans of taking down the mezuzah."

Update: On April 3, Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin announced that their client Barbara Cadranel, had successfully resolved the issue in her favor--just in time for the Easter and Passover season. The California Condominium Association has agreed to allow Cadranel to hang her mezuzah and has completely removed any penalties and fees against her. The condominium association has also announced that it will allow any future residents to place a mezuzah or any other religious symbol on door frames without necessary approval.

Most Popular Housing Markets
See Gallery
Mezuzah Case: Condo Association Bylaw vs. Jewish Practice

Median List Price: $186,000
Total Listings: 53,009
Median Age of Inventory: 138 days

Home Price: $4.995 million
Beds/Baths: 6/6
Sq. Ft.: 12,000

Users of searched for homes in Chicago more than any other city in January. With a little over 53,000 homes for sale, the city has ample supply for house hunters. 

Behind this luxury home's brick and limestone exterior, is a whopping 12,000 feet of space. The listing description claims the house offers just the right balance of public and private spaces. 

See the listing for more details

Arched doorways and exposed beams infuse the wide halls with an old-world feel. Other details include maple floors, leaded windows and period lighting.  

See the listing for more details

The first floor features an expansive recreation room and private gym. Upstairs is the home's "master bath," which comes with a vanity, makeup desk, whirlpool tub and vintage shower.

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $81,700
Total Listings: 22,370
Median Age of Inventory: 70 days

Home Price: $290,000
Beds/Baths: 3/3
Sq. Ft.: 2,800

Speaking volumes to the affordability of Detroit housing, not one of's Detroit listings is priced above $1 million. 

This $290,000 home is high-end as far as the city's market goes. The apartment, which features waterfront views, dates back to Detroit's heyday when the American automobile industry was firing on all cylinders. 

See the listing for more details

The expansive living room offers a glimmer of its roots, with its hardwood floors and fireplace. Price per square foot of the dwelling is just $104. 

See the listing for more details

Pictured here is the home's elegant dining room. There are virtually no other city markets that'll deliver an apartment interior like this one for such a low price. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $320,444
Total Listings: 26,858
Median Age of Inventory: 83 days

Home Price: $10.95 million
Beds/Baths: 6/9
Sq. Ft.: 13,699

Los Angeles' median home price may tower over the national median (which is below $200,000); but in coming in at No. 3 on our list, that apparently hasn't stopped prospective buyers from scouring the city's listings. 

This spanking-new, palatial mansion features floor-to-ceiling windows that display the home's jaw-dropping panoramas for all they're worth. 

See the listing for more details

The home's inviting infinity pool perches over the urban sprawl.  

See the listing for more details

In addition to otherworldly views, the $10.995 million home features a stark, contemporary interior.

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $221,995
Total Listings: 21,693
Median Age of Inventory: 124 days

Home Price: $4,898,100
Beds/Baths: 4/2
Sq. Ft.: N/A

Philadelphia's median home price hovers above the national median by a considerable margin. The city has one of the highest average inventory ages on our list. That may induce more sellers to cut their prices. 

This apartment building offers some stunning flats that cost nearly $5 million a piece. 

See the listing for more details

The expansive interior has a sleek layout along with details that add a dash of swank. 

See the listing for more details

Philly's skyline waits outside floor-to-ceiling windows. The upscale apartment has access to an in-house gym and pool.

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $169,500
Total Listings: 17,699
Median Age of Inventory: 69 days

Home Price: $2.75 million
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.: 6,917

Phoenix-Mesa, bringing cheaper than average homes to the home-buying table, is fifth on our list. Perhaps luring flocks of bargain hunters, the area's homes are selling significantly faster than in most cities. 

This contemporary has a well-landscaped courtyard and guesthouse. The listing description plays up the home's privacy, which makes the home "feel miles away." 

See the listing for more details

The home's crowning feature is probably the pool pictured here, which sits between the guesthouse and main house. 

See the listing for more details

The stucco home also offers an artist's studio and three-stall barn, along with a pastoral field for horse-riding. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $150,000
Total Listings: 48,705
Median Age of Inventory: 91 days

Home Price: $6.75 million
Beds/Baths: 8/12
Sq. Ft.: N/A

Atlanta has also drawn the interest of many prospective buyers, and its affordable median home price -- $150,000 -- may explain why. 

This rustic waterfront mansion represents the pinnacle of luxury in Atlanta real estate. 

See the listing for more details

The finely-finished home offers a giant kitchen whose kitchen island, with its eight stools, is so expansive that it seems more of a bar, than actual cooking space. 

See the listing for more details

Pictured here is the home's lavish great room. Its arched windows bathe the space in light. With eight bedrooms, the home seems tailor-made for clan getaways. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $142,000
Total Listings: 18,827
Median Age of Inventory: 110 days

Home Price: $3,999,999
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.: 6,763

Florida is one of the states hit hardest by the the housing bust with rampant foreclosures driving down home prices all around the state. So it's no surprise that buyers have the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area in their crosshairs. 

This magnificent waterfront manse sits on some prime Tampa real estate. Price per square foot? $591. While that may strike you as exorbitant, keep in mind, pre-meltdown, this place's value surely dwarfed its current price tag. 

See the listing for more details.  

The home is decked out in luxurious upholstery. There are six bedrooms and six bathrooms. 

See the listing for more details

The house offers no shortage of windows, keeping the home's lush, tropical setting within reach. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $189,900
Total Listings: 16,291
Median Age of Inventory: 94 days

Home Price: $6.495 million
Beds/Baths: 3/5
Sq. Ft.: 5,025

Dallas' median home price hovers around the national median, rendering it a fairly affordable city to your average American. 

This home, however, is not affordable to your average American -- but, hey, it's fun to look at. The contemporary sits on a one-acre lot that stares out at the Dallas skyline. Recently, the home's price was slashed to $6.49 million. 

See the listing for more details

The home features an expansive living area with soaring ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows perfect for sucking in the stunning city sprawl. 

See the listing for more details

There's also a fully equipped kitchen that offers your fair share of marble countertops. The home is handicap-outfitted.

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $155,000
Total Listings: 10,857
Median Age of Inventory: 81 days

Home Price: $3.99 million
Beds/Baths: 5/8
Sq. Ft.: 8,676

Another city still reeling from the housing bust, Orlando is attracting many bargain hunters eager to capitalize on low home prices. 

This mansion, constructed in 2009, recently had it's price cut to $3.99 million. It sprawls 8,676 feet, and has an exterior built largely of stone. 

See the listing for more details

The interior feels almost regal with its cherry-stained wood paneling, columns and crown molding. The chandeliers don't hurt either. 

See the listing for more details

Other highlights beyond its exquisite decor include the home's game room, hot tub and golf course views. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $121,000
Total Listings: 21,665
Median Age of Inventory: 105 days

Home Price: $8 million
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.: 13,489

Las Vegas took one of the biggest shellackings from the bursting of the real estate bubble, with its median home price plunging by more than 60 percent. It would seem that buyers are keen on taking advantage of the rock-bottom prices. 

This massive luxury home almost certainly used to be worth well over $10 million. Now the 13,489-square-foot behemoth is running for $8 million. 

See the listing for more details

Interior details include arched doorways, columns and coffered ceilings. 

See the listing for more details


More on AOL Real Estate:
Find out how to
calculate mortgage payments.
homes for sale in your area.
foreclosures in your area.
Finds homes for rent in your area

See also:
Condo Buyers: Why Bigger Is Better
Property Taxes Finally Start To Reflect Housing's Plunge

Woman Faces Legal Fines For Flower Garden
Read Full Story

Find a home

Powered by Zillow