Monday, January 9, 2012

Holiday decoration dispute continues to plague HOA in the New Year

2012 has brought more litigation to a Lake County retirement community that thought it had put its holiday-related troubles behind them.

The 2011 holidays brought a lawsuit filed by Rabbi Arthur Grae against the Legacy of Leesburg Homeowners Association seeking the right to display a large menorah outside the community's Social Hall. Fortunately, that suit was settled in a presumably amicable fashion by the plaintiff donating a 6 1/2-foot menorah which was installed inside, rather than outside, the Social Hall. The donated menorah was approximately the same size as the indoor Christmas tree and replaced a smaller menorah which had been set up on a table.

However, the terms of that settlement agreement were expressly made confidential and Rabbi Grae now stands accused by his HOA of violating the terms of that confidential settlement by discussing it with the media and in other venues. The HOA's lawsuit seeks punitive damages and injunctive relief barring Grae from further breaches. The homeowners association claims that its image has been "tarnished" and its property values impacted as a result of the publicity related to the agreement in the Orlando Sentinel, the Daily Commercial in Leesburg, the rabbi's newsletter and the American Bar Association Journal.

The HOA's Complaint asserts that Grae "discussed and opined" on the terms of the agreement; copies of the published articles as well as Grae's newsletter were attached as exhibits to the Complaint. Many associations embroiled in disputes with owners would rather the terms of any ultimate settlement remain confidential especially if the association feels it has had to concede ground to achieve the settlement. Conversely, owners who achieve a measure of victory are usually very anxious to share their battle stories and strategy with their neighbors.

I suppose this can all be attributed to basic human nature. However, this particular case really raises a few questions about how we can get tripped up even after we win a hard-fought battle. If the goal was to achieve parity between holiday symbols, that appears to have been achieved via the settlement agreement reached before years-end. If the goal was to make the Legacy of Leesburg HOA an example to discourage other communities from following suit in terms of holiday decorations, then a confidential settlement should not have been agreed to and the case should have played out in court.

The irony of all this is that the confidentiality agreement is now part of the public records so the HOA Board and Rabbi Grae are subject to the court of public opinion alike.

No comments:

Post a Comment