A former tenant of 45 Hill St., who operated a sober living residence, has filed a federal complaint against the city of Biddeford, alleging the city used ordinances and land use regulations to discriminate against the operation. The building at 45 Hill St. was also the site of a deadly fire on April 2. Credit: Google Maps

The founder of a former sober living house has filed a federal complaint against the city of Biddeford, alleging the city forced it to vacate a downtown apartment, according to a local media report.

Jesse Harvey of Journey House LLC on March 27 filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging the city of Biddeford violated federal law when its code officer told the landlord of 45 Hill St. that the operation was “illegal” because the building lacked a sprinkler system, according to the Journal Tribune.

Journey House, which operates two sober living residences in Sanford, rented an apartment at 45 Hill St. to house six men in recovery between December 2016 and December 2017, the Tribune reported.

The Tribune reports that complaint alleges Code Enforcement Officer Roby Fecteau used zoning and land use ordinances to discriminate against the sober house residents, telling the building’s landlord last October that “this was an illegal operation since the building did not have a sprinkler system.”

Biddeford’s attorney, Keith Jacques, denied the allegations, writing in response to the complaint that “at no time did the city tell complainants that the operation was an illegal use or that the complainants needed to vacate the apartment,” according to the Tribune.

In the city’s response, Jacques wrote that the city believed the operation would need to be reclassified as a rooming house within the apartment building, necessitating a sprinkler system, the Tribune reports. Jacques wrote that while the city awaited a response from the Maine fire marshal’s office, Journey House voluntarily vacated the apartment on Hill Street.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will complete its investigation into the complaint within 100 days, as required under federal law, the Tribune reports. At that time, the complaint could be referred to U.S. District Court.

The apartment building at 45 Hill St. was the site of a fire on April 2, in which an elderly man died. The building, which was built in 1900 and was not required to have sprinklers, had survived two previous fires that destroyed its fourth and third floors, according to CBS affiliate WGME. The April 2 fire destroyed the remaining two floors.

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