An east Mesa retirement community accused of discriminating against a Mormon group has settled a fair housing lawsuit brought by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Maricopa County Superior Court approved the settlement Monday, which requires the Sunland Village East Homeowners Association to eliminate its policy of using religion to determine whether a group can use a meeting room.
The settlement also requires officers and employees of Sunland Village East Homeowners Association to be trained on Arizona’s fair housing laws.
Even though the association must pay the attorney general’s office $1,000 to monitor the compliance of the settlement agreement for two years, there were no fines for violating the law.
“When fines are imposed, it may have been more deliberate than just this,” said attorney general spokeswoman Andrea Esquer. “In this particular case we felt it was important they be educated on what the fair housing laws actually encompass.”
Trouble started in March 2005 when the association began charging a group of about 75 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use meeting space because the group was not a board-sanctioned club, included nonresidents and excluded non-Mormons, the lawsuit alleges.
Board president Jan Winkler said the controversy began really because of a shortage of meeting space.
The community of nearly 5,000 residents has only three meeting rooms, Winkler said.
The board appointed a committee to address the space problem, so it recommended restricting the 11 or so religious groups in the community.
“We just didn’t realize we were breaking the law,” Winkler said.
The group, known as the LDS Family Home Evening Group, met monthly for free for 12 years for potlucks, entertainment and guest speakers, said group chairman Raymond Rich.
Family Home Evening is a Mormon tradition in which families set aside one night a week to be together.
When the group challenged the use fee, the board changed its room-use policy to restrict all religious groups, the lawsuit states.
Rich, 79, said the group met with an attorney who steered it to the attorney general’s office, which filed the lawsuit March 13.
“We’re in our twilight years and we should be thinking about our eternity, not fighting with our neighbors,” Winkler said.