Religious row as Orthodox Jewish couple sue neighbours for ‘imprisoning’ them with automatic hallway light
A Jewish couple are suing their neighbours in a block of flats, saying an automatic security light is keeping them prisoner in their home because it forces them to break their Sabbath rules.
Dr Dena Coleman and husband Gordon claim they cannot leave their holiday flat on the Sabbath because when they do they automatically trigger the light in the communal hallway – contravening a religious ban on turning on electrical items from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday because it constitutes ‘creating fire’.
They say their human rights are being breached and are now suing the flats’ management company – their neighbours – for failing to accommodate their religion.
The other 35 owners of the seaside flats are liable to pay court costs if the claim is successful.
Dr Coleman, a 56-year-old headteacher at a Jewish orthodox school in London, has been visiting the £200,000 holiday flat in Bournemouth, Dorset, with her husband for six years.
The management company fitted the motion-sensing lights six months ago in a bid to save energy and money.
The Colemans have offered to pay for an override switch to disable the light sensors during the Sabbath.
But the Embassy Court Management Company – which represents all residents and whose three directors also live in the block – said this would set an ‘unacceptable precedent’.
In a letter sent to occupants of all of the other 35 apartments in the block, the Colemans said: ‘Faced with a situation where we could never again have full use of our flat, we were left with no alternative but to seek legal advice.’
The couple said they would drop the case if an override switch was installed and the management company paid their legal costs and compensation.
The argument has sparked controversy between the other residents.
One resident, who did not want to be named, said: ‘It has caused quite a stir here, there have been a lot of arguments.
‘There has been a meeting about it and many of the residents aren’t happy.
‘There’s a feeling that things shouldn’t be changed just to suit people in one flat when everyone else is happy with it.
‘I don’t think the rest of us would think twice about the lights but they’re going to great lengths to get it changed so they must feel very strongly about it.’
The couple say they only moved into the flat in spring 2003 on the understanding that movement sensors would never be installed in communal areas.
They have now issued a county court writ against the management company, saying they have discriminated against them on the grounds of religion.
The claim also accuses the company of breaching their rights under the Equality Act 2006 and Human Rights Act 1998.
In a statement the company said: ‘The directors believe that almost all lessees at Embassy Court support the actions taken by the management company to reduce communal lighting electricity costs, and to reduce repair and maintenance costs by preventing heat damage to light fittings and prolonging their life.
‘The directors further believe that almost all lessees support the installation of movement sensor controls in the hallways and have no personal problems with their installations.
‘Unfortunately correspondence between directors and lessees concerned failed to resolve the dispute.
‘Clearly the lessees [the Colemans] felt so strongly that their rights may have been infringed by the management company that they decided to take legal action. That is their prerogative.
‘A key allegation in this claim is that the movement sensors installed in the hallway discriminate against the claimants, who are orthodox Jews, on the grounds of their religion and belief.
‘The lessees also allege in the claim that when they purchased their flat in the spring of 2003 it was on the basis of assurances from selling agents that that movement sensors would not be installed at Embassy Court.
‘Although other lessees are innocent parties in this legal dispute, in accordance with the lease, the Management Company’s expenses reasonably incurred in these legal proceedings with be recoverable from all lessees in the service charge, to the extent that these expenses are not paid by the other parties to the proceedings.’
The case is due to be heard at Bournemouth County Couty later this year.
Dr Coleman is the headteacher at Yavneh College in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, the author of several books on education.