If you are on the board of a co-op or homeowners’ association, you may have concerns that your facility is out of compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. This could be a major issue for your organization, with the potential for major liability.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination in employment, public accommodations and transportation. It was intended to ensure that everyone, regardless of disability, enjoys full and equal access to jobs, public areas and transportation.
The ADA requires employers, transportation agencies and those who offer public accommodations to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. One example of a reasonable accommodation is removing physical barriers or installing workarounds like ramps and curb cuts. Another reasonable accommodation is to provide handicap parking.
Your co-op or HOA could be an employer and offer public accommodations
ADA compliance for employers
The ADA applies to all employers who have 25 or more employees, and many larger co-ops and HOAs meet this threshold. That means that you will need to refrain from discrimination and make reasonable accommodations for any employees with disabilities. Generally, a reasonable accommodation is anything necessary to assist the person in performing their duties that would not cause undue hardship to the employer.
An undue hardship is something that would be too difficult or expensive to provide, considering the company’s size, business needs and financial resources. The fact that there is some cost involved in an accommodation is not enough to show undue hardship. Also, if more than one accommodation would work for the person with the disability, the employer can choose which one to offer.
In the employment arena, a person can demonstrate they have a covered disability if they are otherwise qualified for the job and:
- Has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity
- Has a history of such a disability (such as cancer in remission)
- Is perceived to have a non-transitory physical or mental impairment, even if it is not true
ADA compliance in public accommodations
Many facilities are recognized by law as providing public accommodation, and that includes any areas in your building that are open — or sometimes open — to the general public. The ADA may apply to:
- Recreational facilities, such as pools, golf courses and tennis courts
- Places of public gatherings, such as meeting rooms and social halls
- Food and drink establishments
- Social service operations like day cares and senior care centers
It does not matter if the public facility is leased to a separate operating entity. The HOA or co-op could still be required to make reasonable accommodations under the ADA.
In addition to any amenities you offer that the public may sometimes enjoy, you should know that your sales or rental office is a public accommodation, as are any public or visitor parking areas. These areas need to be ADA compliant.
If you are unsure whether you need to make a costly upgrade to comply with the ADA, contact an attorney experienced in co-op and HOA law.