Marthon v. Maple Grove Condominium Assoc.: Jury to Decide Fair Housing Claims Made by Condominium Resident with Tourette's Syndrome

A federal court considered whether a condominium association's management company is required to make a reasonable accommodation for a resident afflicted with Tourette's syndrome.

Jeffry Marthon and his wife, Maureen Kilty (collectively, "Residents") have lived in the Maple Grove Condominiums, in Downers Grove, Illinois, since 1986. The Maple Grove Condominium Association ("Association") governs the development, and Alpha Property Management, Inc. ("Property Manager") serves as the property manager for the Association. Mr. Marthon suffers from Gilles de la Tourette's Syndrome (commonly referred to as "Tourette's Syndrome"), which is considered both a neurological and mental disorder that involves involuntary motor and vocal actions. Among other manifestations, Mr. Marthon makes involuntary noises such as "barking," engages in involuntary actions such as "foot-stomping," and also suffers from a sleep disorder. Mr. Marthon has a limited ability to control these involuntary actions.

In 1998, Paula Beranek, Board President of the Association at the time, moved into the unit immediately above the Residents' unit. From the time she moved into the unit, Beranek claimed that she could not sleep because of the noises coming from the Resident's unit below her all night long. When Beranek began vocalizing her dissatisfaction with the Residents, Marian Devereux, the resident in the unit immediately below the Residents and whose sister was a member of the Association's Board, also began vocalizing complaints over the noise emitting from the Residents' unit, even though Devereux had lived below the Residents for six years without ever making a formal complaint about the Residents.

Eventually, the noises caused the Association to issue Notices of Violation to the Residents in January 1999 for alleged violations of the Association's bylaws regarding "Nuisances." The Residents contested the alleged violations in a letter from their attorney, and no further action was taken by the Association. The Association also retained two acoustical engineers to try to find a solution to the noise problem. When this effort failed to produce a solution, in June 1999 the Property Manager sent the Residents a letter terminating their "rights to continue as Unit Owners." Following that letter, the Association filed a lawsuit seeking eviction of the Residents. On the same date that the eviction lawsuit was filed, the Residents filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act ("Act") by the Association and the Property Manager. The Association agreed not to pursue the eviction lawsuit until the Residents' Fair Housing lawsuit was resolved.

The Act is intended to eliminate discrimination against protected classes from the housing marketplace. One goal of the Act is to prohibit discrimination against, and also equalize, housing opportunities for individuals suffering from a disability. In their lawsuit, the Residents alleged that both the Property Manager and the Association violated two sections of the Act. Section 3617 makes it unlawful to "coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere" with a disabled person's "exercise or enjoyment" of their dwelling. Section 3617 also allows individuals who "encourage or assist others" in protecting their rights to bring a lawsuit, which in this case would mean Ms. Kilty, Marthon's wife. Under section 3604, it is unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services for disabled individuals. The Residents made a motion to the court seeking judgment in their favor, and the Property Manager also made a motion which sought judgment in its favor.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that the Property Manager did not violate section 3604, but denied the other motions made by the Residents and the Property Manager. In considering whether the Association and the Property Manager had violated section 3617, the court stated that a factual dispute existed which a jury needed to resolve. The Residents argued that the Association and Property Manager were engaging in discriminatory treatment of the Residents because of Marthon's disability, while the Property Manager and the Association argued that they were merely enforcing the Association's bylaws. Since a factual dispute existed, the court could not make a ruling on the motions. Thus, the court ruled that jury will decide at trial whether the Property Manager and the Association violated section 3617.

The court next considered the alleged section 3604 violations. The court ruled that the Residents' motion for judgment again raised disputed factual issues, and so this matter also should be left for a jury at trial. The question for the jury would be whether the it would be a "reasonable accommodation" for the Association to accommodate the effects of Mr. Marthon's condition. However, the court ruled in favor of the Property Manager on its motion for judgment on the section 3604 allegations. The court ruled that the Property Manager had no power to evict, to fine, or to otherwise punish the Residents. This power was held by the Association, not the Property Manager, and so the Property Manager could not violate section 3604. Therefore, the court ruled in favor of the Property Manager on the section 3604 allegations.

Marthon v. Maple Grove Condominium Assoc., 101 F. Supp. 2d 1041 (N.D. Ill. 2000).

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