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September 17, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Hasidic Jews sue Highland Lake Estates for $7.5M, claiming discrimination

The welcome page on Highland Lake Estates’ internet site boasts about its diverse and multicultural community, but 11 Hasidic Jews paint a very different picture of the Highland Mills, Orange County, neighborhood.

They have sued the homeowners association, property manager and board members for $7.5 million, claiming that Highland Lake Estates is hostile to their religious practices.

The association has adopted rules that are “expressly designed to harass Hasidic Jews,” according to the complaint filed in federal court in White Plains.

Efforts to reach five board members named in the lawsuit failed.

Arthur Edwards Inc., the current property manager based in New Tappan, New Jersey, declined to comment. Archway Property Management Inc., a previous property manager based in Central Valley, said in an email, “As we have not seen this lawsuit, it is too early to comment.”

About 15 Hasidic families have bought homes at Highland Lake. Yoel and Fraida Fried were the first, in October 2016.

On one of the first nights in their new home, they claim, Christopher Perino and Carmine Mastrogiacomo, current members of the homeowners association board, parked in front at midnight and shined headlights on the house for 20 minutes.

Last September, the association amended bylaws to designate Sunday as a “home and family day of tranquility” and to prohibit commercial transactions. Hasidic Jews observe the Sabbath on Saturdays and customarily conduct commercial activities on Sundays.

The new rules, the lawsuit contends, are meant to prevent real estate brokers Esther Schwimmer and Mrs. Fried from showing properties to Hasidic clients.

The board allegedly adopted bylaws that disallow the use of eruvs, markers that designate where Jews can carry or push objects on the Sabbath and on Yom Kippur. Isaac Schwimmer was denied permission to mount two eruvs on his property. When he installed them anyway, they were removed and he was fined more than $10,000.

Last fall, Aharon Ostreicher built a sukkah, a temporary hut used during the week-long festival of Sukkot. He was ordered to remove the hut.

Christian families, the complaint states, are allowed to erect outdoor Christmas displays and adornments on their properties.

Abraham Kohn claims that Perino chased him and demanded that he leave the development when he was looking to buy last summer. Kohn bought a property but withheld association dues when he learned that Perino was on the board. The board sued him for $1,310 in maintenance fees.

Mendel Stern was fined $16,475, the complaint states, for renting a home to another Hasidic Jew and for his refusal to pay association dues. Residents who are not Hasidic and who rented homes to people who are not Hasidic were not fined, the complaint claims.

The community has restricted school buses from picking up children near their homes, according to the lawsuit, and banned delivery vehicles and car services that Hasidic families rely on.

Mrs. Schwimmer claims she has to get permission to show houses on Sundays, her busiest day, in effect alerting association members to where she and her clients will be. She claims Perino and others have followed her around the community, swarmed her car, screamed anti-Jewish slurs, summoned police and accused her of trespassing.

The Hasidic Jews also claim that new bylaws prevent them from congregating for prayer. Stern, for instance, alleges that he was warned in writing not to use any of his properties for prayer.

By last summer, the Frieds no longer wanted to live in Highland Lake Estates. They were denied permission to rent their home, the complaint states, and their listing agent was told to remove the for-sale sign.

The agent refused. “The sign went missing several days later.”

The lawsuit cites violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and other federal and state laws.

The plaintiffs include Melech Krauss, Yochonon Markowitz, Israel Ostreicher and Joel Sabel. The defendants include board members Nancy Diaz, Alec Rubanovich and Ray Torres.