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ADA compliance critical for tenants, owners.

The American with Disabilities Act [ADA] has become one of this years issues in the real estate industry. Building owners, real estate brokers, architects, interior designers, and engineers have been trying to find out what it means and how it affects them. The ADA is a civil rights act intended to prohibit discrimination against the disabled. The ADA is divided into four titles: Title I - Employment; Title II - Public Services and Transportation; Title III - Public Accommodations; and Title IV - Telecommunications.

Title III provides for equal access to places of public accommodation such as hotels, restaurants, stores, schools, and service establishments and to places of employment. Newly constructed buildings and spaces being altered within existing structures are to comply with the law. The ADA makes a distinction between a public accommodation and a commercial facility [generally a place of business with employees such as an office or factory] in its retroactive provisions. Public accommodations are required to remove barriers to the disabled or provide reasonable alternatives where the removal of a barrier is not feasible. Commercial facilities are generally not affected by the barrier removal requirement. However, a building may have both public accommodations and commercial facilities in it.

In New York City, we have been getting used to building accessible spaces since the city passed Local Law 58 of 1987. Many of the construction requirements of Local Law 58 and the ADA are the same as they both utilize the American National Standards Institute AII7.1 Accessibility Standard. However, we have to be careful to realize where there are differences. As an example, in a minor alteration with no change of use, such as one floor in a multi-story office building, Local Law 58 does not require the floor's existing bathrooms to be modified [unless they are being renovated as part of the alteration]. The ADA would require the bathrooms be made accessible or a reasonable accommodation such as a one person accessible bathroom usable by both sexes be provided. The New York City law calls for visual fire alarm devices [strobes] to be placed where they are visible. According to the ADA, strobes are to be mounted 80 inches above the floor or 6 inches below the ceiling, whichever is lower, and no room or space more than 50 feet away from the signal. The ADA also requires a more powerful strobe than New York City. New York City requires the strobes to have city approval and an approved strobe meeting ADA requirements may not presently exist.

The ADA allows for a distinction between tenant's leased spaces and public areas which the landlord is responsible for. The landlord is not required to make existing public areas accessible every time a tenant modifies its leased area. The tenant would be responsible to make the modifications in the leased area comply. Building which already have accessible elevators and bathrooms will be more attractive to prospective tenants in the same way buildings without asbestos area. Savvy tenants will be looking to negotiate leases that make landlords responsible for ADA compliance. They will also be expecting their real estate brokers, architects, and interior designers to be advising them on this issue.

There is a dollar cost related to the ADA. It is generally believed that the amount added to a new building is a relatively small percentage of the total cost. The amount in an alteration may be proportionally much larger. The law does provide that the cost of providing accessibility need not be more than 20 percent of the cost of the alteration. Both the ADA and New York City Local Law 58 of 1987 will have an affect on anyone contemplating major renovations.
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Title Annotation:Review and Forecast, Section IV; building owners, occupants required to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act
Author:Rand, Alan
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jun 24, 1992
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