A Timonium-based developer has agreed to pay a physically disabled renter and a local fair housing watchdog organization $50,000 and make its future apartments fully accessible to the handicapped.
The agreement settles a suit Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. (BNI) filed against the Kilree Corp. two months ago in U.S. District Court. BNI and Kilree announced the agreement yesterday.
Martin Dyer, BNI's associate director, said he "admired Kilree for the constructive approach it has taken toward providing apartments that are fully accessible to people with disabilities." Mr. Martin said he hoped other builders will note the settlement and meet their legal responsibility when building multi-family units.
BNI sued on behalf of Keith Small, 24. Last summer Mr. Small, who has used a wheelchair for the past five years because of a degenerative disease affecting his arms and legs, reserved an apartment in one of the three-story apartment buildings being built by Kilree in Mays Chapel. According to the suit, rental agents assured him the apartments would comply with the 1988 amendment to the federal Fair Housing Act.
The amendment covers construction begun after March 1991 and requires that first-floor apartments in multi-family structures with more than four units be accessible to the physically disabled. The apartments also must be designed to meet the needs of the disabled.
Mr. Small found Kilree had put an artificial hill in front of the main entrances to the eight apartment buildings. Those entrances are the closest to the parking lots. In his suit, he claimed this design forced disabled people to enter through the rear patio doors, which are farther away from the parking lots. Mr. Small also discovered the interior of the first-floor apartments were not designed with handicapped people in mind.
As part of the settlement, Kilree didn't admit to violating the Fair Housing Act.
"Kilree welcomes all tenants with or without disabilities," said Steve Jones, a spokesman for the corporation.
Kilree agreed to replace the steps leading to the first-floor apartments with level entrances. The corporation also said all future first-floor apartments built by the company or its affiliates will be completely accessible to the disabled.
Andrew Freeman, one of the attorneys representing BNI and Mr. Small, said the suit was the first of its kind in the country since the housing amendment went into affect.
"I'm sure the settlement will be noted by developers around the country," he said.
Mr. Small, who plans to move in March into the apartment he reserved, said he was very pleased with the settlement.
"Now I can enter my apartment through the front door like everyone else," he said.