Very interesting case here in North Dallas. Orthodox Rabbi Yaakov Rich has been hosting two services a day in his home, dubbed Congregation Toras Chaim, and recently applied for a Certificate of Occupancy with the City of Dallas.
Rabbi Rich wants to operate a religious center in his 3,572-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath home at 7103 Mumford Court. Built in 1986, records show this home was purchased in June of 2013 and is valued at $330,000.
As reported by Fox 4 (KDFW), neighbor David Schneider has sued Rabbi Rich (pictured at left) for $50,000, claiming that the in-home synagogue is lowering his property values inside the Highlands of McKamy, a custom home subdivision served by Plano ISD.
“The courts in the State of Texas have upheld the rights of homeowners in communities such as ours. As an individual, I have looked to them for relief,” Schneider said in a statement.
Schneider is referring to homeowners association covenants and conditions that have been affirmed by courts, including restrictions against home-based businesses as well as commercial use in an area where an HOA agreement is signed upon closing on the home.
On the other hand, the Rabbi’s counsel, 2007 Harvard Law grad Justin Butterfield of the nonprofit Liberty Institute, says that the meetings hosted at the Mumford Court home are protected by federal law.
“The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, that protects religious land use,” said Butterfield in the Fox 4 story. “And that can be anything from a church to a person having a Bible study in their home.”
Besides, as Rabbi Rich explains, Orthodox congregations are a boon for neighborhoods, driving home values up, but never down, thanks to the foot traffic they bring in.
Eric Nicholson on the Dallas Observer‘s Unfair Park blog sums the matter up like this:
Liberty Institute is basing its defense of Rich and his synagogue on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a law passed by Congress in 2000 protecting arbitrary zoning rules that infringe on religious liberty.
Whether that argument flies depends on whether the Liberty Institute and Congregation Toras Chaim can convince the court that the government — or, in this case, a homeowners association — has no compelling interest in barring a church or synagogue from operating out of a single-family home.
Whether the fight expands depends on how Dallas chooses to interpret its zoning laws. Churches and homes occupy separate parts of the city’s zoning code, with the former required to provide a certain amount of parking.
This will be a very interesting case for anyone living inside a community governed by an HOA. Do signed and agreed-upon HOA covenants protect homeowners from uses not otherwise approved? Or does federal law supercede that, meaning that homeowners can’t see damages, real or perceived, wrought by an unapproved use.
What do you think? Will the courts find that the congregation’s twice-daily meetings are protected use, or will the HOA covenants against home-based enterprises be upheld?
Stay tuned to see how this turns out!