ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - The owner of an Islamic learning center claims in a federal complaint against his former landlord that a forced relocation made him lose 20 students.
Adam Hilow filed the suit Tuesday against Michael Choi, with whom he signed a lease in October 2012 for a 4,100-square-foot space in Annandale at the Commercial Management Company of Virginia.
There was never any confusion, Hilow claims, that his Imam Alkisai Institute of America would be using the premises "for the intended purpose of a learning center and other related activities such as conferences, seminars, symposiums and prayers."
What started as simple landlord-tenant disputes, however, forced Hilow to relocate last year to Fairfax.
"Over time, these complaints grew into a repeated and ever escalating build-up of ill-founded, harassing, humiliating, embarrassing, and distressing charges,” the complaint states.
Hilow says the landlord accused him of using the property as a “church,” but Hilow notes this could not be “farther from the truth.”
Indeed the institute is allegedly closed on Fridays, the Muslim day of worship, when most members head to their local mosques to pray.
Hilow says students may learn about prayer in the center, but that is covered in the lease.
As to the landlord’s noise complaints, Hilow notes that the neighboring tenants “were unable to confirm any allegations of excessive noise.”
In December 2014, Hilow says, staff at the learning center confronted someone videotaping and photographing students. The individual allegedly said the property manager had sent him.
A month later, according to the complaint, the property manager “levelled further ill-founded, harassing, humiliating, embarrassing and distressing charges against IKIA and its members and students.”
Hilow says security cameras were installed in the rented suite come February, and that his attorney notified the landlord that they needed permission if they planned to record minors.
The complaint quotes from a letter Hilow’s attorney sent to the property manager in March, saying they filed police reports because they believed the conduct constituted harassment, “due to the current climate and recent violence that has been directed towards American Muslims.”
That letter noted that the institute always paid the rent on time, “has never been in default under the lease and does not believe the attitude and actions of the landlord directed towards it are warranted or justified.”
Hilow alleges violations of his equal rights, conspiracy, breach of lease, and other claims. He is represented by Jay Ian Igiel and Robert Nealon of Nealon and Associates.