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BOISE — A disabled resident of the Idanha Building on Main Street is suing the management company of the iconic downtown Boise apartment building, accusing the company of violating his rights.

Ahniah Selene, the plaintiff, alleges Parklane Management Company, owner of several other properties in and around downtown Boise, violated the Federal Fair Housing Act by repeatedly failing to complete necessary repairs to the building’s wheelchair lift and elevator, regularly blocking residents from accessing their homes and exposing them to potential dangers.

Selene, a quadriplegic who uses an electric wheelchair, described multiple instances between April 2017 and May 2019 where either the wheelchair lift to access the main lobby or the single elevator to the upper floors was malfunctioning. In the initial complaint filed in Idaho District Court in February, Selene’s lawyer, Brian Ertz, said the company was using “dangerous, humiliating, and restrictive workarounds” rather than making sustainable repairs to serve those with disabilities.

An amended complaint was filed later to reflect issues Selene faced after December 2018.

The issue of the broken elevator and wheelchair lift has garnered protests outside the building, one at the end of 2018 and another in May of this year. Selene said he is not the only disabled person dealing with issues entering and leaving the apartment, and he has heard stories of this essential equipment malfunctioning. The apartment building has served low-income tenants for at least a decade.

Law firm Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley LLP, which is representing Parklane Management Company, said they could not comment on the matter.

In its response to the complaint, Parklane said Selene was guilty of “negligence, careless, reckless, and/or intentional misconduct,” which caused and contributed to the issues he described in the complaint. The company said a lot of the issues were due to third parties it had no control over, and it was answering Selene with “honest, reasonable belief that such actions were necessary and lawful at the time.”

Both Parklane and Selene are requesting a jury trial, which has not been set yet, according the docket report. Selene is requesting Parklane pay him $150,000 in compensatory damages, and one year’s worth of gross rental revenues from the building or $200,000, whichever is higher.

Moving to another apartment is difficult, especially for those using federal government rental assistance in Boise. Vacancy rates for affordable units are below 1 percent, according to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association.

According to documents filed with the court, Selene lives on disability assistance from the federal government of roughly $1,000 per month. His portion of the rent at the Idanha was $366 and he estimated an average of $191 in utility payments at the time the complaint was filed in February.

MALFUNCTIONS

The issue first arose for Selene in April 2017, according to the complaint, when he became stuck in the malfunctioning wheelchair lift. He called Parklane Property Management to ask for help and said there was no answer; he was eventually freed from the lift by a building maintenance employee.

During the month the lift was broken, Parklane told Selene he could use the buildings basement freight lift to enter and exit the building, the complaint said.

According to the court documents, the lift does not have any safety railing and is roughly the size of Selene’s wheelchair, opening the possibility that he could fall off of the platform. The complaint said a sign on the lift reads “WARNING: Employees, personnel, and all individuals are STRICTLY PROHIBITED from riding on the mechanical lift.” Selene could only use the freight lift to enter or leave the building with 20 minutes’ notice to building staff, which felt “humiliating,” the complaint said.

Once the lift was repaired, Selene soon had to deal with a broken elevator for the majority of May 2017. This left him trapped in his apartment on the second floor of the building. According to the complaint, Parklane management told Selene that staff could carry him and his wheelchair up and down the stairs when he needed to come and go. The first time they tried this, Selene said he was almost dropped; he chose not to continue having staff members carry his 350-pound wheelchair.

The complaint said Parklane told Selene he could go to a hotel of his choice, but the hotels Selene said would meet his accessibility needs were denied because of price. The hotel he was moved to required a keycard to enter, which Selene said he couldn’t reach because of his chair, and he had to wait for other guests to let him in or out. Selene also did not have access to his specialized bed he needs to prevent bed sores and other health problems during the several days he was in the hotel.

Upon returning to the Idanha, the elevator was still not fixed, and the complaint alleges long periods where no work was occurring on it because of high labor costs on weekends. The complaint said the elevator broke again in July, August, and September of 2017, as well as February, November and December of 2018. This continued again in March and May of this year, according to the complaint.

NEXT STEP

At the end of 2018, Selene filed a request for “reasonable accommodations” through his lawyer, which would make the building livable for someone with a disability. This included Parklane arranging an ongoing contract with a company to repair the wheelchair lift and elevator. Those tasks would have time sensitive priority over other non-residential jobs in the Treasure Valley, an independent assessment of the wheelchair lift and elevator, and a requirement that parts for the equipment be kept on hand for quick turnaround on maintenance requests.

Selene also requested he could always be able to enter or exit the building within 20 minutes’ notice when the lift or elevator are down, alternative housing be available if needed, his specialized bed and padding be moved to the alternative housing and Parklane provide transportation if the alternative is not in downtown Boise. These requests were denied by Parklane’s legal counsel, so they are included in Selene’s demands in the suit.

Since the elevator broke again in the spring of this year, Selene was moved to an alternate apartment because of anticipated weeks of repairs. It is unknown how many other disabled residents live in the building and if they were offered the same accommodations.

Margaret Carmel covers the city of Boise. Follow her on Twitter @mlcarmel or reach her by phone at 757-705-8066.

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