Q&A: Is an HOA Accountable for Wheelchair Access?

Q&A: Is an HOA Accountable for Wheelchair Access?

Q. “I am a resident who is wheelchair-bound, living in a condo building built before 1991. I had a temporary plywood ramp made specifically for access to enter and exit the common entrance. The HOA has since informed me the ramp is unacceptable due to fire escape regulations, insurance purposes, and impeding other tenants from free access. My question is whether the HOA is in any way liable in providing wheelchair accessibility to a multi-unit building built prior to 1991?”

 —Concerned Tenant Who Needs a Ramp 

A. “It appears that the reference to 1991 relates to the requirement that buildings constructed from and after March 13, 1991 have to meet certain handicap/disability accessibility standards promulgated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” says attorney Michael C. Kim of Chicago-based firm Michael C. Kim & Associates.  “Since the building was constructed prior to that date, those accessibility requirements imposed on builders would not be applicable.  

“However, the law does require that reasonable accommodation be made for disabled individuals to allow access into a building and ultimately their dwelling unit.  The accommodation must be reasonable and the expense of physical modification would be borne by the requesting resident.  

“In this instance, the accommodation is the installation of a ramp so as to facilitate wheelchair access into and out of the common entrance way. The installation of the ramp is still subject to bona fide safety requirements that may be imposed by local governmental authority; such requirements may be imposed as conditions for the installation of the ramp, including code required materials, construction and placement.  

“If the temporary plywood ramp is not permitted due to local municipal code, then alternative material/construction/placement should be explored. If having a ramp interferes with other (presumably able-bodied) residents from accessing the common entrance, there needs to be a determination as to whether such interference is simply a matter of convenience as opposed to precluding safe entry; if it precludes safe entry, then the accommodation (ramp) may not be ‘reasonable.’ 

“As for insurance issues, it should be ascertained as to what is the concern (for example, is it a safety-related concern or other?).  If the insurance-related objection is tied to bona fide safety issues, then the matter should be explored as to whether the ramp can be modified to adequately address those concerns, as opposed to prohibiting a ramp in its entirety.  

“In conclusion, a condominium building constructed before 1991 is not subject to the construction specifications for post-1991 buildings; however, a pre-1991 building is still subject to the reasonable accommodation requirements under the fair housing laws. The requirement for reasonable accommodation (such as a wheelchair ramp) is dependent upon the specific facts and circumstances regarding the physical aspect of the entrance way and any relevant safety requirements, especially as imposed by local municipal code.”                               

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