Issues of Accessibility The Importance of ADA Compliance

 New Yorkers are a resourceful bunch—we pride ourselves on being able to snag a cab during rush hour, get from the  Upper West Side to Greenpoint in less than three subway transfers, and show no  fear as we battle the crowd at a hot designer sample sale. For city residents  with compromised mobility however, the ability to do tasks that many of us take  for granted is profoundly impacted. For those with long-term disabilities, the  elderly, or those recovering from an illness or injury, even getting into or  out of their own building can feel like a monumental task.  

 To make day-to-day life easier, an array of laws have been enacted that provide  protection and grant those with disabilities equal access to buildings and  other public spaces. Central among those laws is Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which states  that owners of certain buildings must eliminate barriers and provide people  with disabilities with access equal to or similar to that available to the  general public. Another cornerstone law is the city's Human Rights Law, administered by the New York City Commission on  Human Rights (CCHR), which further 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.  

 What's Reasonable?

 The CCHR’s Law Enforcement Bureau says that the biggest problem faced under the rules of  the ADA is the belief that older buildings are grandfathered out of the law and  thus not required to make changes. The goal of the bureau is to make sure that  every building that can be made accessible in a reasonable fashion—if there is a unit owner that requires it—be made accessible.  

 'Reasonable accommodation' as it's used in the language of these two laws can be  structural—such as a ramp at a building's primary entrance to provide wheelchair/walker  access, or installing grab-bars in public/community bathrooms. Reasonable  accommodation can also involve changes to rules or policies, such as permitting  a disabled resident to keep a service or 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.  

 As is often the case however, knowing exactly how the ADA and Human Rights Law  directly apply to a particular co-op or condo community can be complicated.  Boards need to familiarize themselves, however—not fully understanding the laws‘ applications can result in accidental non-compliance, and that can lead not  only to legal costs, but unnecessary acrimony between boards and residents. For  example, managers and boards in the city's older buildings often assume—incorrectly —that the laws only apply to new construction, and therefore their prewar co-op  is exempt. Others may be baffled by the technical requirements of these laws,  and still others may assume—again, incorrectly—that making their buildng accessible will necessarily cost a fortune.  

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