BNI files series of lawsuits over inaccessible construction



Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. (BNI) today filed a series of lawsuits in federal court developers are violating federal civil rights laws requiring that newly constructed multi-family housing constructed after March 13, 1991 be accessible to people with disabilities. The six developers are:

l) Sterling Homes, developer of Red Fox Farms in Baltimore County;

2) Rommel Builders, Inc., builder of Lions Gate in Anne Arundel County;

3) Continental Landmark, Inc., which is building Landmark Homes in Harford County and which, along with Constellation Real Estate, Inc., is constructing Piney Orchard in Anne Arundel County;

4) Domain Builders, L.C., which constructed Stone Ridge Condominiums in Baltimore County; and

5) Falls Gable Limited Partnership, which developed Falls Gable Condominiumsin Baltimore County.

In l988, the Congress amended the Fair Housing Act to make it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in the sale or rental of housing. The law provides that all multi-family housing consisting of four or more units that came on the market after March l3, l99l must meet certain minimal requirements. In general, each ground floor unit and all public and common areas must be accessible.

The lawsuits filed by BNI allege that the defendant developers have violated these requirements in various ways. At Lions Gate, for example, steps make virtually every unit, including those located on the ground floor, inaccessible. The sales office itself is up a full flight of stairs on the second floor. At Falls Gable Condominiums, the rear, ground level units are accessible only by a steep stairway, mailboxes and trash bins are inaccessible, and there are no curb cuts (wheelchair curb ramps).

Similar deficiencies exist in the Landmark Homes developments in Harford County. Of about a dozen buildings at "The Pond", four have steps leading to the main entrance and no access at all to the ground level units. Steps leading to the second floor sales office at "TheCourtyards" make it totally inaccessible. Serious problems exist also as to the accessibility of the individual buildings. More remote back units are virtually inaccessible because of the terrain and distance of the path; curb cuts are all distant from handicapped parking spaces. Significant deficiencies exist also at the Landmark Development, Piney Orchard, in Anne Arundel County.

The common entrance to each of the buildings at Red Fox Farms is accessible only by steps. Ground level units in many buildings are inaccessible; many of those which are accessible can be reached only by a long uphill sidewalk.

BNI's Associate Director, Martin Dyer, said: "It is incomprehensible that five years after these provisions of the Fair Housing Act became effective builders and developers are still constructing multi-family housing that is inaccessible to people with disabilities. A rapidly growing population of people with disabilities, largely attributable to the fact that people are living longer and more people who suffer disabling injuries are surviving, makes it critically important that we, as a society, recognize their right to and need for accessible and useable housing. In enacting the l988 Amendments to the Fair Housing Act, the Congress recognized this need. To give builders and developers time to gear-up to the requirements of the new law, however, the Congress delayed its effective date for three years. Five years have passed since that gearing-up time ended. It is past time that we cease to treat people with disabilities as second class citizens and begin to recognize that they are as vital and integral a part of our society as any of us. These lawsuits are intended to help to spread that message."

BNI is a private, nonprofit organization founded in l959. Enforcement of federal, state and local laws prohibiting housing discrimination is a principal part of its mission. For more than a year, BNI has devoted special attention to discrimination against people with disabilities under a Fair Housing Initiatives Program grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition to assisting disabled people who file housing discrimination complaints, BNI has been monitoring the construction of new multi-family housing throughout the metropolitan area to ensure that it complies with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

These lawsuits seek a court order requiring the developers to comply with the requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of l988 and money damages.

BNI is represented in these lawsuits by Andrew D. Levy of the Baltimore law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.

Inquiries concerning this matter should be addressed either to Martin Dyer at

(4l0) 243-4400 or to Andrew D. Levy at (410) 659-0717.