In a city renowned for its architecture and buildings, from iconic buildings recognizable in the city skyline to brownstones in residential neighborhoods, it is important for New Yorkers to acknowledge the right to equal access for individuals with disabilities. Title III of the American Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) gives civil protection to the disabled by requiring buildings to provide equal access to tenants, shareholders and owners of co-ops and condos. This applies to all “public accommodation and commercial facilities” built and occupied after January 26, 1993. The New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) offers a further layer of protection by also instructing landlords, and co-op and condo boards to reasonably accommodate these individuals with disabilities. The CCHR interprets reasonably to include:
- Interior and exterior ramps
- Accessible bathrooms
- Electronic doors
- Accessible parking
- Assistive listening devices
Joshua S.C. Parkhurst, partner of Cary Kane LLP, explains that “The statute itself is broad, but the accessibility guidelines do provide a lot of specifics, and must be reviewed very carefully. The guidelines regulate even the placement of ATMs, saunas, steam rooms, laundry rooms, and their goal is to make it so that most people with disabilities are able to utilize the facilities of the building.”
However, when deciding what is reasonable, the nature of the amendment and its cost are taken into account. If a disabled individual wants to purchase a top floor apartment in a pre-war building it would not be deemed reasonable to install an elevator as it could destroy the physical integrity of the building and be very costly. In past situations, condos and co-ops have opted to implement portable wheelchair lifts, which are temporary and less expensive. This means that buildings do not have to undergo lengthy and expensive renovations in order to comply with ADA regulations. That said, NY CCHR’s Law Enforcement Bureau ideally would like all buildings in the city to provide equal access (including all pre-war buildings).
If your co-op or condo begins renovations, it is important that any and all changes are ADA compliant. Additionally, if the building revamps the front entrance and there is no wheelchair ramp, it is imperative for this to be installed at the time of construction. If your building needs guidance on how to comply, consult your building’s counsel. The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and CCHR is another great resource.