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Is there a grandfather clause for older buildings in the ADA?

On Behalf of | Jun 17, 2024 | ADA |

The Americans with Disabilities Act  (ADA) created many new responsibilities for businesses and property owners. For example, buildings erected in 1993 or later have to center accessibility throughout the design and construction stages by ensuring that the facilities meet all current ADA requirements.

From doorway width to bathroom stall size, the ADA imposes a variety of accessibility obligations on spaces open to the public. People need to be able to get into the building, to move through hallways, to sit or otherwise use the facilities as appropriate and to be able to use the bathroom.

The cost of modifying facilities can be extensive, especially for older buildings. If a building has historical value, for example, any repairs or alterations to the building they have to meet very exacting standards. Is there a grandfather clause that exempts certain properties from renovations and modifications necessitated by the ADA?

Exceptions based on building age are rare

Buildings erected prior to Congress passing the ADA may require substantial modifications to make them accessible to those who need wheelchair access or other basic accommodations. Many businesses and property owners have skirted these obligations by avoiding complaints about non-conforming facilities.

The lack of enforcement action may lead some to believe that these older buildings may have some protection from claims brought by members of the public. However, all it takes is one visitor who cannot access the facility for a property owner or organization to face massive financial setbacks due to complaints about ADA violations.

While the ADA does not extend blanket exemptions to buildings based on their age, buildings with historical value can employ an alternate approach to compliance in some cases. For example, the main door to a historical building does not require modification to make it accessible. Alternate access points can be an option that helps to maintain the historic charm of older buildings.

Ensuring compliance with the ADA is crucial even when a property is decades old and has historical value. Those helping to operate organizations and those who have acquired real property may need assistance evaluating facilities to determine if they are compliant with accessibility rules and what changes may be necessary to protect against the risk of litigation.