Equal Access Under the Law Understanding the Finer Points of ADA Compliance

For some New Yorkers planning their daily errands and activities can be as logistically difficult as mountain climbing. These New Yorkers are, of course, those with disabilities, the elderly or anyone whose mobility has been compromised by illness or injury—even temporarily—getting into or out of their own buildings can feel like a monumental task...like climbing a mountain.

Legally, however there are laws in place that are supposed to provide protection and grant those with disabilities rights that would help make daily life a little bit easier. One law, in particular, is Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). This law states that owners of certain buildings must remove barriers and provide people with disabilities with access equal to or similar to that available to the general public.

Similarly, another law administered by the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is the city's Human Rights Law—this law provides further protection for those who are disabled. The law protects the rights of people with disabilities by requiring that landlords and management of co-ops and condominiums reasonably accommodate the needs of disabled tenants, shareholders or owners.

Reasonable accommodation can be structural, such as a ramp at the primary entrance to provide wheelchair/walker access, or installing grab-bars in public/community bathrooms. Reasonable accommodation can also involve policy or rule changes, such as permitting a tenant who is blind, physically disabled, or has a psychological disability to have a guide dog, service dog or a companion animal despite a building's “no pets” policy. The Human Rights law provides guidance in assessing requests for reasonable accommodation, taking into account the nature and cost of the proposed accommodation and the financial resources of the landlord or building.

Interpretation of the Law

As with many laws however, deciphering the ADA's legalese can be complicated—not fully understanding the laws applications can result in accidental non-compliance. For example, in some cases, managers and boards in the city's older buildings often mistakenly think they are exempt from these laws, believing that the laws are solely meant for new construction. Others may be baffled by the technical requirements of these laws, and still others equate accessibility with big budgets that they may not have at their disposal.


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  • I live in a condo building in Chicago , Il that was built prior to 1991. Prior to moving in the HOA knew i was disabled and wheel-chair bound. Since i have moved in i had a plywood temporary ramp specifically made to enable me to enter and leave the building through a common entrance everyone has access to. The HOA has since informed me this is not acceptable for indurance purposes, fire hazard and impedes the flow of traffic for other tenants. My question is, does the HOA have any responsibility in making the common areas of a multi-unit building wheel-chair accessible?