Berner v. The Enclave Condominium Association, Inc.

322 N.J. Super. 229, 730 A.2d 877 (App. Div. 1999)
  • Opinion Date: June 14, 1999

DISCRIMINATION; STANDING—Under the Law Against Discrimination, a condominium unit owner seeking to rent his apartment need not be a member of a protected group if he suffers the same injury as his prospective tenant, himself a minority, suffered when a condominium association discriminated against the tenant in his application for tenancy approval.

A Caucasian condominium owner alleged in Law Against Discrimination litigation that he was not permitted by his condominium association to lease his unit to an African-American. The association settled with the African-American, but obtained summary judgment in its favor against the unit owner on the ground that he lacked standing because he was Caucasian and not the individual discriminated against. The Appellate Division reversed. It was undisputed that leasing the unit required approval by the association. A black prospective tenant signed a lease meeting the association’s administrative requirements. When he showed up for his interview, he was made to wait over five hours for a twenty minute interview. During the interview, he was interrogated about his occupation and his finances, although his financial ability to pay the monthly rent was relevant only to the unit owner. Nonetheless, the applicant explained that he had started a new job and that he could afford the rent and, in fact, had already placed the utilities in his name. He displayed a bank statement which showed he had more than enough finances to keep the rent current and even had the ability to pay the entire year’s rent in advance. During the interview, he was told that he “could not walk in bare feet in the building, and that he would not be allowed to have more than one guest at a time in his unit.” The interview committee examined the lease and all the documents in the prospective tenant’s file and then told him “he would be happier living elsewhere and that it would be financially better for him to obtain housing which was less expensive in another building.” He was told he would be contacted by a member of the association in the next couple of days and would be told whether or not he had been accepted as a tenant. At no time, however, did the interviewing committee ask him for a phone number or his address. He was never contacted by the association and never given a key to the unit.

Under the circumstances, the Court ruled that the condominium unit owner was directly affected by the association’s actions, having lost his lease to the prospective tenant. “He was no more or less the object of [the association’s] conduct than was [the prospective tenant]. We need not, therefore, grapple with the more complex issue of incidental third-party standing in the context of civil rights lawsuits.” A Law Against Discrimination plaintiff need not be a member of a protected group. Regardless of the race of the unit owner, this owner suffered the same injury as a minority when the association acted as it did.