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Can ADA non-compliant businesses be “grandfathered” in? 

On Behalf of | Jul 13, 2021 | ADA |

You know that modern businesses have to be ADA compliant. If you constructed a building today or renovated an older one, it would have to adhere to the new codes.

But what if you operate out of a building and business that was built before those codes existed? For instance, imagine that your business location was initially constructed in 1971, exactly 20 years before the 1991 ADA Standards came out — and nearly 40 years before the updated standards in 2010. Clearly, no one at that time was worried about rules that did not yet exist. Does this mean that your business is “grandfathered in” and doesn’t have to be ADA compliant? 

You must at least meet the 1991 ADA Standards

As a general rule, nothing is grandfathered in by the ADA. It doesn’t have this provision. You have to bring your building up to code. 

That said, some businesses qualify as “safe harbors.” What this means is that, as long as your building meets the 1991 standards, it does not have to meet the more exacting 2010 standards. For instance, the maximum height for a light switch is 48 inches, as of 2010. Back in 1991, the maximum was set at 54 inches. Say your switches were at 58 inches in 1991 and you brought them all down to 54. You may not have to bring them down again to 48 inches if your business is a safe harbor. 

How do you know what your ADA obligations are?

Not all businesses qualify as safe harbors and these situations can get quite complex. You may believe you don’t have to make changes that someone else deems necessary. If you run into a dispute, be sure you understand all of your legal options. An ADA complaint or lawsuit can be very costly, so don’t hesitate to seek experienced assistance.