The lawsuit claims that the document of the owners’ association only authorizes the “gentiles of the Caucasus”
BERRIEN COUNTY, MI – A Berrien County Homeowners Association is sued for language used in original state and county documents which stated that owners were “Caucasian Gentiles” and “Good Christian Neighbors” .
The lawsuit was filed by LH Longwood, LLC – which owns property in the Shorewood Hills Homeowners Association – as well as three individual members of the Stephen family, all of the Catholic or Jewish faith.
In the October 9 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, the plaintiffs argue that the language violates the federal Fair Housing Act and the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of Michigan and should be removed from the public record.
John Cameron, a lawyer representing Shorewood Hills, disputes claims that these documents still exist, pointing out statutes and statutes, both of which are posted on the association’s website, do not contain any of the “offensive languages” cited by the lawsuit.
Kevin Hirzel, representative of the plaintiffs, sees it differently.
The articles of incorporation of the Shorewood Hills Country Club, filed September 7, 1950, with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs state:, Protect, improve and beautify the real and personal property of the club.
This document, which can be viewed in its entirety online, has been changed twice, once in 2000 and again in 2015. Neither the language was questioned in the lawsuit, nor the most recent change, although the most recent change was to identify the language. ‘association – originally called Shorewood Hills Country Club – by its current name.
The language of the âChristian neighborsâ is not what has upset the complainants the most. According to the lawsuit, it was a question of restricting the ownership of the assets of the association contained in the documents deposited with the registry of acts of the county of Berrien.
This document, attached as an exhibit in court documents, states that “no lot or lot in said subdivision shall be sold, rented, used or occupied by any person or persons other than white gentiles of the Protestant faith” .
“There is simply no room for discrimination and bigotry like this in today’s world,” said plaintiff Scott Stephen. “It makes me both angry and very sad.”
The plaintiffs discovered the two documents after an amendment to the association’s bylaws stipulated that an LLC could not own or lease property in Shorewood Hills. The plaintiffs challenge this restriction in a separate case.
LH Longwood LLC, made up of five siblings including Stephen, uses the property âas a place for family reunions and retreatsâ about four months a year and rents it out for short-term rentals the rest of the year.
âThe property has been in the family for 43 years,â Stephen said. âIt transferred from sole ownership to an LLC in 2013 when we bought it from our parents. The rental policy refused to let us keep it as an LLC, so we started reviewing the documents.
What they found, Stephen said, was to become individual members of the association, they would have to subscribe to the beliefs set out in the statutes.
âI said, ‘Let’s see what these beliefs are,’â he said. âWe went to the state of Michigan and saw what was originally filed on the deed (for the association). We were just appalled.
âSo not only am I not welcome because I am Catholic, but my wife who is Jewish and my two children who are Jews are not allowed, as are all my brothers and sisters who are also Catholics. “
Stephen said his parents never knew, likely because the internet hadn’t been invented when they bought the house and the association wasn’t advertising it.
Stephen said he approached current Shorewood Hills board chair Donna Morgan and former board chairman Mike Johnson about what he found. Both said the documents posted on the website were the association’s founding documents, he said.
Neither of them, Stephen said, would hear him when he asked them to change or delete the wording of the original documents filed with state and county governments.
âHaving the other documents on their website and not modifying the documents filed with the state is like saying, ‘You are not a fanatic and you are a fanatic,'” Stephen said. “It would be super easy to just change the language. That’s all I want, I want it to change. And I want an apology.”
Morgan, contacted for comment by MLive, has asked the media to submit questions via email. The chairman of the board did not answer these questions, but the association’s lawyer responded later to speak on his behalf.
âWe believe both claims are unfounded,â Cameron said. “We will be filing pleadings against both claims and I think it will be clear that we are correct in this case.”
Cameron declined to provide details of what would be in those pleadings. He also highlighted the documents posted on the association’s website as its official governance documents.
Hirzel argued that these documents were irrelevant and said they were not listed anywhere as official documents with the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
The only official documents with the state government, he said, are those filed with the department, “which they are clearly aware of because they have filed their annual reports there every year and they have amended the original document four years ago “.
âWe’re not saying the language is always enforced,â Hirzel said. “This restriction seems to have expired, but the point is that it is still a statement of the association. It’s still in their act, and they should register something either by redacting that statement or by creating a form of new act that doesn’t have that language in there.
“The fact that the language exists and continues to be published is problematic and sufficiently damaging.”
The damages alleged in the law, Hirzel said, include “the decrease in property values. The law calls for a pecuniary judgment for actual and punitive damages, in addition to âreasonable attorney’s fees and expensesâ.
âIf you are not a Christian and you see this language in the deed book, you will certainly have some sort of reserve to buy a house there. That alone diminishes the value, “Hirzel said.” You’re probably not going to go on and say, ‘Hey, do you really believe that?’