A 94-year-old Oak Park woman could not get a federal judge on her side in a dispute with her condo association, who she says owes her the right, under federal law, to rent her condo while she undergoes medical treatments, despite association rules.
Lillian Vignola owns a unit in the building run by the 151 North Kenilworth Condominium Association, on Kenilworth Avenue, just north of Lake Street in Oak Park. Unable to live in the unit since a 2014 fall at home, Vignola attempted to rent her condo while she lives in a rehabilitation facility. The Association denied the request, saying she failed to follow a rule requiring listing the unit for sale for a full year before moving on to leasing.
In a lawsuit filed in January against the condo association and their attorneys, with the firm of Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit, of Mundelein, she sought injunctive relief, arguing the lease-before-list rule violates her rights to a “reasonable accommodation” under federal fair housing and disability laws.
U.S. District Judge Andrea R. Wood issued an opinion Nov. 2 denying Vignola’s motion. Wood said courts should only grant injunctive relief if the moving party can demonstrate a they are likely to succeed on merits of the underlying claim, have no other adequate legal remedy and would suffer irreparable harm if the relief were denied. She then explained Vignola failed by not presenting sufficient evidence to succeed on the Fair Housing Amendments Act claim.
To prove the accommodation she requested is necessary, Wood said, Vignola had to establish that without it she’d “be denied an equal opportunity to use and enjoy her condo.” Specifically, she cited the 2006 Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in Wisconsin Community Services v. City of Milwaukee, which charged courts with determining “whether the rule in question, if left unmodified, hurts handicapped people by reason of their handicap, rather than … by virtue of what they have in common with other people, such as a limited amount of money to spend on housing.”
Wood wrote: “Vignola faces a difficult, if not insurmountable, task in attempting to show that the potential loss of her home is due to her disability as opposed to her lack of financial means to keep her condo while staying at the rehabilitation facility.” She reasoned the association would have just as soon denied a request from someone who had to be away from their condo for reason of a work transfer or to care for a sick relative.
Wood further rejected Vignola’s argument her rehab stint, caused by a disability, would leave her no place to live if her condo were sold while she was away; she gave no evidence she couldn’t stay with a relative or move to a nursing home. Further, since she could keep her unit empty — provided she could afford payments — or return with in-home care, Vignola did not prove the disability specifically caused her situation, rather than a lack of funds.
The association proved its bylaws, with the lease-before-list rule, were in effect before Vignola’s fall. While other condo owners leased rooms in their units without first listing for sale, doing so is different from leasing the entire unit to a new tenant without association approval, Wood said. She added Vignola’s request amounts to permission to convert her owner-occupied condo into a rental unit.
With the first hurdle a failure, Wood said the Seventh Circuit calls for a cursory review of the other considerations. In that regard, Wood wrote, “Vignola has a strong case that the potential loss of her home constitutes irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law.”
Further, Wood said the harm the “Association would suffer from granting an exception to the list-before-lease rule and allowing Vignola to rent her unit pales in comparison to the loss of one’s home.”
But, the judges said, “no matter how heavily the balance of harms may weigh in her favor, Vignola has failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits, and that dooms her preliminary injunction motion.”
Vignola is represented in the action by attorneys Paul Bernstein and Kelli A. Dudley, each of Chicago.
The 151 North Kenilworth association was represented by attorneys Jennifer Leigh Knobloch and James M. Forkins Jr., of the Law Offices of Edward J. Kozel.
The Kovitz firm was represented by attorneys Steven Dale Pearson and Corey Thomas Hickman, of the firm of Cozen O’Connor, of Chicago.