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Lawsuit accuses local builder of discriminating against people with disabilities

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    Brooklynn Park Villas resident Jenny Tillman sits on her porch on May 15, 2018. The step at the entrance to her home is not wheelchair accessible, which is one of the many alleged violations of The Fair Housing Act she is citing in a lawsuit.

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    Michael Marsh, left, President and CEO for the Fair Housing Center, speaks to the media about the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio accusing Moline Builders, Inc., JLJ Development, Inc., Larry L. Fast, and James Moline of discriminating against persons with disabilities by failing to comply with federal design and construction regulations for accessible housing. Katie Hunt Thomas Attorney, Ability Center of Greater Toledo, center, and Brooklynn Park Villas resident Jenny Tillman, right, sit on Tillman's porch.

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    Christina Rodriguez, an attorney for the Fair Housing Center, shows how the toilet is too close to the wall in the home of Brooklynn Park Villas resident Jenny Tillman, not pictured, which is one of the many alleged violations of The Fair Housing Act she is citing in a lawsuit.

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    Brooklynn Park Villas resident Jenny Tillman shows the inaccessibility of the pantry in her home on May 15, 2018. The pantry is one of the many alleged violations of The Fair Housing Act she is citing in a lawsuit.

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Representatives of the Fair Housing Center and Ability Center of Greater Toledo announced Tuesday the filing of a joint lawsuit accusing a senior housing community's owners and developers of violating the Fair Housing Act.

The lawsuit accuses Moline Builders, Inc., JLJ Development, Inc., Larry Fast, and James Moline of constructing and marketing Brooklynn Park Villas — a 55 and older housing community in Toledo — in a way that violates the The Fair Housing Act.

The violations were said to have continued after “being informed of their lack of compliance.” It was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Resident Jenny Tillman, 59, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 25 years ago and said she sought a property that would be accessible if she ever had to use a wheelchair.

“I wanted everything on one level, for it to be accessible, and I wanted to be able to age in place,” she said. 

Christina Rodriguez, an attorney for the Fair Housing Center, said among the violations her organization found were: a step to access the front door as well as a too-high door threshold; a pantry door too narrow for a wheelchair; a microwave installed too high, and a toilet installed too close to a wall and vanity. 

On its website, Moline Builders advertises the Brooklynn Park Villas as “universally designed with no-threshold entries, easily accessible bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms with doorways wide enough to accommodate a wheel chair,” and “handicap accessible, including no step entries.”

After purchasing the unit in July, 2016, Ms. Tillman said she realized her new home did not include many of those features. She asked for certain modifications, including to reposition the toilet and create a sloped front entrance, and said she was denied. 

She recalled the builder’s response: “You bought it this way.”

Messages left with Mr. Moline’s office and cell phone were not returned Tuesday, nor was a message left with Mr. Fast’s engineering firm.

“I have been turned down so many times when I asked for simple things that I don’t want to take it anymore,” Ms. Tillman said of her decision to participate in the lawsuit. Issues with her balance have already made entering her home with the step sometimes challenging, she said, and the home will become unlivable if she begins to use a wheelchair.

The suit seeks funding to retrofit already-built units to come into compliance, to reimburse residents who spent money to remediate their units, award damages “as would fully compensate plaintiffs for their injuries incurred as a result of defendants’ discriminatory housing practices and conduct,” and punitive damages. It also asks that future developments are in compliance.

Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the Fair Housing Center, said representatives of his organization attempted to resolve the issues for two years before filing suit, including a meeting with Mr. Moline during which he was “rude and dismissive” to Fair Housing staff. 

“To me this is fraud. He marketed these as accessible for people with disabilities and housing for older persons who have special needs,” Mr. Marsh said. Several of the units in the complex were built after Fair Housing’s complaints, he added. 

“That is an egregious violation of the Fair Housing Act,” he said. “How dare you do that do these people? Take their money and promise them something and don’t deliver.”

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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