Posted: Sep 13, 2013 10:24 PM by Lindsey Gordon - MTN News
HELENA - The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against a Helena builder and an engineer for building a covered-multi-family dwelling, accusing them of discriminatory housing practices.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday, for two 4-unit buildings that were built last year at 195 and 175 Silsbee Avenue in Helena.
It claims that owners and builders of the units - Gabe and Sommer Nistler and engineer Derek Brown - violated the Fair Housing Act.
The complaint states that there is no handicapped parking, no accessible way to amenities like trash bins, no handicap-accessible means to get from the pavement up onto the sidewalk, and various other violations.
When Derek Brown spoke to the people at Montana Fair Housing, he said they never told him specifically what was wrong.
Brown said, "We've already put a bunch of work in to try to make it accessible. When this first came up and we put additional access into the back of the building. Put a bunch of sidewalks, paved the parking area...the city said that was okay, HUD came in and said it wasn't."
Browns says the city approved the plans all the way through but granted only a temporary occupancy for the building, when construction was completed about a year ago.
Pam Bean said, "The plans that the city approved were altered during construction."
Brown says that's not true, and added, "We didn't get a complaint until well after the building was finished and occupied."
Montana Fair Housing said the responsibility is with the engineers, developers, and builder.
Bean said, "I do believe architects have an obligation if they're going to design this housing for developers to understand those regulations."
Brown says that navigating all the different codes and regulations is nearly impossible, because there is no single place to review and understand all of the requirements.
Now the U.S. Department of Justice is asking the defendants to fix the non-compliant features and award monetary damages.