City of Huntington and Lifehouse discuss what led up to lawsuit
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - In the city of Huntington, there are dozens of sober living homes, but this week officials slapped the operator of 14 of those homes with a federal lawsuit.
Officials say the suit stems from safety concerns.
“We have an old city and so we have old buildings. We are doing our best to make sure all buildings and all residents have access to safe housing,” Huntington Fire Marshal Mat Winters said.
Part of Winters’ job is to coordinate rental property inspections, making sure those homes and buildings are up to code.
However, the city says they’ve been trying for months to inspect Lifehouse sober living homes but haven’t been able to get inside.
“We’ve requested inspections, and they’ve been denied for whatever reasons,” Winters said.
So, WSAZ went to the operator of those 14 homes, Rocky Meadows, to ask about the lawsuit and the denied inspections.
“I’ve never denied an inspection ever,” Meadows said.
WSAZ’s Marlee Pinchok asked Meadows, “Has there ever been a time in the past when you said, ‘No, you can’t come and inspect one of my properties?’”
“Never to anyone,‘’ Meadows replied.
Meadows says he has proof in the form of emails and text messages he says he sent the city -- where he invited the city to come perform the inspections. However, those invitations had contingencies.
For example, in an email from Meadows to the city he says, “Be advised the Lifehouse is preserving all of its legal rights as a single family dwelling.”
Why is that important?
Single family homes aren’t subject to the same safety requirements as homes where more than five unrelated people live.
“It would look like ‘that’s not a single-family dwelling, that’s eight people recovering from addiction.’ I understand that, but it’s been proven and fought at the Supreme Court level that they are a single family dwelling and can live just like you and your family and me and my family and they’re considered that legally,” Meadows said. “And by being protected under the disability act, there’s only certain things they can do. No different than five or seven of your family members living together. They couldn’t come in and say do this, this or this.”
However, the city says these homes aren’t single families. In fact, according to the lawsuit the city says most of the Lifehouse properties would fall under “lodging and rooming” and others classified as dormitories. This means those homes would need safety measures like fire alarms, emergency egress (or exits), and in some cases a sprinkler system.
Pinchok asked Meadows if he is in compliance with the safety requirements.
“Completely. The only thing we don’t have yet is what the city is currently asking, which none of us have yet, is wired fire alarms. But we do have a contract with the biggest local fire company that we are currently doing them, so we are getting that done,” Meadows said.
The city says they just need in the homes.
“Our goal is the safety of residents across the city. It doesn’t matter where they live; that is our end goal. So, we want to do inspections, we want to be fair, we want to be objective, and that’s the goal of our inspection program,” Winters said. “We’ll let the court system do what it does and work through the process ... all the answers will come out.”
Currently, there is no word on when a hearing date will be scheduled.
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