Home Courts Highland Lake Estates directors countersue Hasidic Jews for $25M

Highland Lake Estates directors countersue Hasidic Jews for $25M

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Directors of the Highland Lake Estates homeowners association have filed a $25 million counterclaim against 11 Hasidic Jews who sued them for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act, claiming that it was the Hasidim who violated housing laws.

The board members allege that Hasidic Jews, who account for 19 of the 168 families in the gated community in Woodbury, Orange County, are trying to take over the neighborhood.

Two Hasidim, their counterclaim charges, said the goal was to make Highland Lake Estates “Jew Town.”

The lawyer representing the Hasidic Jews, Michael H. Sussman in Goshen, was not immediately available to respond on behalf of his clients.

The homeowners association and its directors were sued for $7.5 million in May for alleged hostility toward Jewish religious practices. The association amended bylaws, that complaint stated, to prohibit commercial transactions on Sundays when observant Jewish real estate brokers, who observe the Sabbath on Saturdays, customarily show houses.

New bylaws also disallow the use of eruvs that designate where Hasidic Jews can carry or push objects on the Sabbath, according to the complaint, and delivery vehicles and car services that Hasidic families rely on have been banned.

One Jew claimed he was warned not to use any of his properties for prayer.

The board members broadly deny the allegations in their answer to the May lawsuit.

Board members Nancy Diaz, Carmine Mastrogiocomo, Christopher Perino, Alec Rubanovich and Ray Torres bought their properties between 1995 and 2010.

Previous directors, they claim, allowed homeowners to flout the rules, contributing to a “decline in quality of life as well as fair market value for homes in the Estates.”

They were elected to the board in 2016 and have enforced the rules and imposed fines when corrective action wasn’t taken, “without regard to race, religious, creed, color or any other factors,” according to the counterclaim.

One Hasidic homeowner, the counterclaim says, had substantial amounts of garbage in the driveway. Another had a portable bathroom on the front lawn.

The directors say they have tried to include Hasidic Jews in community events, providing, for example, kosher foods at a summer picnic and an Easter egg hunt.

But when plaintiff Isaac Schwimmer was invited to a summer event, he allegedly responded that he would “rather eat with God than dance with the devils.”

The plaintiffs tried to intimidate board members, according to the counterclaim, by following them and videotaping them.

One part of the counterclaim says a resident identified as “Kraus Stern” allegedly advised an unnamed board member that the goal of the Hasidic Jews is to make Highland Lake Estates “only for Hasidic families from the Village of Kiryas Joel area.”

None of the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit is named Kraus Stern, but Mendel Stern and Melech Krauss are plaintiffs.

“Kraus and Stern,” the counterclaim later says, told an unidentified board member that they “will bankrupt the community and have the town take this over.”

“The town” is an apparent reference to Kiryas Joel, a village of Satmar Jews less than two miles from Highland Lake Estates.

Additionally, the counterclaim states, “Kraus Stern and an individual who identified himself as Mr. Schwimmer” advised an unidentified board member that “the goal was to make the Estates ‘Jew Town.’”

The board members allege that the plaintiffs’ goal is to discriminate against all non-Hasidic families for the benefit of “Hasidic families who are part of the Kiryas Joel community.”

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