Monday, December 03, 2007

Who Really Owns Your House?

Judge rules house is national group's for U of U Sorority
By Nathan C. Gonzalez The Salt Lake Tribune

The row on Greek Row is over.

An alumni organization from a University of Utah sorority was dealt a disappointing blow last week when a 3rd District Court judge ruled that a Greek Row house belongs to it's national organization, Tri-Delta.

Tri-Delta opted to close its U. chapter, Theta Phi, citing recruitment issues in 2006. At the time, Theta Phi was the smallest sorority at the university, with fewer than 30 members.

Theta Phi House Corp., a group of about 1,200 Theta Phi sorority alumni, then voted in the summer of 2006 to sell the home. Colleen Malouf, corporation officer for Theta Phi House Corp., said the house was to be used by the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Those plans hit a snag on July 29, 2006, when Tri-Delta national officials filed a lawsuit demanding that Theta Phi House Corp. hand over the title to the home.

Tri-Delta national officials claimed their bylaws show the national organization owned the house. Last week, Judge Anthony B. Quinn agreed.

"This was disappointing to us," Malouf said.

Kicking off the 45-minute court hearing Nov. 20, Quinn asked Theta Phi House Corp. attorneys to sway his interpretation of Tri-Delta's bylaws, which state that in the event the local chapter was "deactivated," the home became the property of the national organization, Tri-Delta attorney John Lund said.

Theta Phi House Corp. officials argued that because money to build and maintain the home was raised and used within Utah, under state statute they are guaranteed ownership of the home, Malouf said.

"That's what we were basing our response on. Tri-Delta national never put any money on this chapter house," she said. "[The judge] didn't even look at the main part of our argument." The home was appraised in 2006 at about $750,000, and is currently being rented privately, Malouf said.

It's unclear whether Theta Phi House Corp. will appeal Quinn's decision.

"We really thought [our plans for the home] would be a win-win thing," she said. "What we are trying to do is develop a legacy for Delta Delta Delta."

If Tri-Delta sells the home, the national group would hold those funds for 10 to 15 years to help establish another local sorority chapter, "if that looked like it was going to be viable," Lund said.

"The Tri-Delta national organization hopes the alumni in Utah and local chapter can get past this and continue to build the sisterhood," Lund said. "This has been kind of a difficult thing internally for all the people in sorority."

The Theta Phi sorority had been on the U.'s campus since 1932 and had owned a house on Greek Row since 1939. Quinn has yet to rule whether Theta Phi House Corp. should be forced to officially dissolve.

Theta Phi House Corp. attorney Robert Mansfield did not return a message for comment. ngonzalez@sltrib.com