BOSTON — A Methuen sober home's battle to stay open in spite of a cease and desist order from the city continued this week in front of the Building Code Appeals Board.
Lincoln's House owner and operator Danielle Donohue, through her attorney Andrew Tine, had filed with the state board in March in response to the city's attempts to enforce a cease and desist order against her sober living facility.
The appeals board heard from Tine and from Methuen City Solicitor Richard D'Agostino on May 3, and took their statements under advisement to make a decision at a later date.
Tine said following the hearing he was not hopeful about his client's prospects with the appeals board.
“I think the board will probably rule against us because they want to err on the side of caution in terms of enforcing the state building code,” Tine said. “Also, they do not have an understanding of how state law and federal law apply in relation to the building code.”
D'Agostino was more confident on behalf of the city.
“I was pleased with the board's attentive reception to our defense of the cease and desist order,” he said.
Methuen officials first issued a cease and desist order against Donohue in February, saying her 10 Quincy St. sober home failed to meet several building and sanitary codes. The city also told Donohue she would face fines if she did not bring the building into compliance.
Donohue, through Tine, appealed to the city the next day.
The city sent another letter on March 23 saying enforcement of the $300-per-day fines would begin the next week, prompting Donohue and Tine to file with the Building Code Appeals Board.
Tine's legal argument to the state board draws on sections of state law and the amended federal Fair Housing Act. He claims that under those laws, given the population Lincoln's House serves, the sober home should fall under the same regulations and guidelines as a single-family home. The city argues otherwise in its cease and desist order.
Tine said Friday he worried the state appeals board would take “the easy and cautious approach” in determining the sober home's fate, “which is to say comply with all the building code requirements as it would apply to a lodging house or whatever else they can deem this to be other than a single-family.”
Should the sober home lose its appeal, Tine said Donohue would have to comply with putting in sprinklers and other “costly measures” to bring the building into compliance with the city's requirements.
“If you have onerous individual requirements on disabled individuals, they won't be able to afford (housing) directly or through their landlord … and thus the housing will not exist, and that, in turn, is exactly what the neighbors (on Quincy Street) want,” Tine said.
Tine admitted that the state appeals board was not his preferred avenue to pursue against the city's cease and desist order.
He is more confident in his client's success with the lawsuit he filed on behalf of Donohue and Lincoln's House in federal court, seeking damages against the city and its acting building commissioner and relief from complying with the cease and desist order.
D'Agostino said the city is preparing its defenses and a motion to dismiss the suit.
While both the lawsuit and appeals board ruling are pending, Tine said Lincoln's House is “going to continue to operate with the laws that are applicable to single-family occupancy.”
Follow Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakashinsky.