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?
  • Our upcoming elevator modernization will take the only elevator in each of our two 6-story Flushing NY co-op buildings out of order for 8 weeks. We have elderly and disabled residents who relied on the elevator for their mobility--most are confined to wheelchairs and all claim that they have to leave the co-op for regular doctor visits and treatments. The Board is being asked to approve and pay for the temporary installation of an inclined chair lift (for one flight in one building) and an inclined wheelchair lift (for two flights in the other building), on a rental basis. Our buildings are over 60 years old and each has a pair of narrow staircases--about 36" wide--with a sharp turn at each landing; I do not know whether such installations would be feasible. The Board is concerned about the safety of all people using these staircases--including those trying to walk past the lifts (even when they are folded up) and those trying to mount and ride them--especially older persons who use walkers that they will have to abandon, in order to use the chair lift. Would such installations, as a temporary measure, be in violation of NYFD Safety Regulations about the obstruction of an emergency egress? The article above seems to state that these devices would not be ADA compliant--does that mean that they cannot be installed? Would the costly expense of the necessary alterations to the staircases (bolting brackets into the cement steps, breaking open the cinderblock walls to access an electrical source, etc.) constitute a 'reasonable accommodation?' Who would be responsible in the event of personal injuries caused by the presence and/or usage of such lifts? As Board President, I have been searching online for answers about this matter, without success so far; even the co-op attorney cannot advise me about this. Please respond. Thank you.
  • My 90 yr old mother in law lives in a coop in nyc. Two years ago, she wanted to convert her tub to a walk in shower. The owners of the coop directly below her blocked that project because the work would affect their ceiling and there would be a lot if noise- for one day. Now, 2 years later, she has just rehabbed from a fractured hip. She NEEDS an accessible shower. I am not sure if her situation rises to the level of ADA status but i am trying to see if there is a legal avenue that compels the neighbor to allow the work to be done. I am not sure if this is a unique rule in the building or what but the people below her coop are stating that their property rights supercede her need for an accessible shower and that is building policy. Step 1- if her condition qualifies her for a disabiity, would she be able to leverage that? Thanks
  • Hi DZ. I have a very similar situation with my aging father-in-law. He Lives in Bayside Queens. Did you manage to resolve this? Haskel