Lawsuits allege builders deny access to disabled Housing laws ignored in area, Balto. group says

March 27, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore fair housing group sued five home builders and a real estate developer in U.S. District Court yesterday, alleging that they are violating federal housing laws by denying the disabled access to the homes they build.

Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. alleges that it found in a $140,000 federally funded survey that some of the region's biggest builders are ignoring the Fair Housing Act by building multifamily homes without ramps and other amenities required to allow wheelchair access.

"It's our position that this is a flagrant violation of something that the federal law is very clear on," said Andrew D. Levy, a private lawyer who uses a wheelchair and who filed the BNI suits yesterday. Mr. Levy and BNI officials announced the suits at a news conference at Lions Gate, a 156-unit Odenton development built by one defendant with first-floor condominiums accessible only by way of a high curb and two steps.

"You don't need an appreciation of the finer points of the fair housing law to know that this is a problem," said Mr. Levy as his wheelchair rested in the street, several steps below the Lions Gate sales office.

Mr. Levy said amendments to the Fair Housing Act, effective since March 1991, require builders of multifamily structures with more than four units to make all first-floor dwellings and common areas wheelchair accessible.

The suits name as defendants Sterling Homes, the builders of Red Fox Farms in Baltimore County; Rommel Builders, which built much of Lions Gate; Domain Builders, which is building Stone Ridge Condominiums in Baltimore County; Falls Gable Limited Partnership, which built Falls Gable Condominiums in Baltimore County; and Continental Landmark Inc., which is being sued for work at Landmark Homes in Harford County and Piney Orchard in Anne Arundel County.

Constellation Real Estate Inc., a subsidiary of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., also is named as a co-defendant with Continental Landmark because it sold Continental its land at Piney Orchard.

Spokesmen for the builders said yesterday their construction plans were reviewed and approved by county building officials, who enforce housing codes.

"If the builder's architect and the county inspector review the plans and agree they're in compliance, we're not in a position to dispute that," said Steven Koren, development manager for Constellation.

John Rommel, the Lions Gates builder, said the project was about 75 percent completed when he was notified that the Fair Housing Act amendments went into effect in 1991. He said he specifically asked how to proceed and was given approval by Anne Arundel County officials. "We had our lawyers check it out," he said.

But Mr. Levy said that means county officials throughout the region also are to blame.

"What that proves is that the housing inspectors are either ignorant of the law or are just not enforcing it," he said.

BNI settled a suit with Kilree Corp. over the lack of accessibility for the disabled to Timonium's North Ridge Apartments in December 1993. In that case, Kilree agreed to make some existing buildings wheelchair accessible, make all future ground-floor, multifamily buildings wheelchair accessible and pay $50,000, Mr. Levy said.

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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