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Installing an ADA Compliant Ramp

Our 12-story condominium in Manhattan is planning renovations to the front entrance of the building, including a new walkway, marquee, door, and lobby. Since we are making these upgrades, we're thinking of also installing a ramp to accommodate an elderly resident who uses a wheelchair and another who uses a walker. A ramp would also be useful for residents pushing grocery carts or pulling heavy luggage. Are there any specific guidelines or building codes we need to follow for installing the ramp? Do ADA requirements apply?

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees disabled people access to employment, public accommodation, transportation, public services, and telecommunications. The ADA does not cover private residential buildings unless a place of public accommodation, such as a doctor's office or retail store, is located on the premises. Those portions of the building that are public accommodations must be ADA-compliant, which require design features such as, among others, wider doorways, handrails, grab-bar supports in bathrooms, sinks and counters with lower heights, and tilted mirrors. The residential areas of these buildings are not subject to the ADA law.

The New York City building code, however, does impose stricter regulations relating to ADA compliancy in residential buildings than the federal law does. Residential dwellings with more than three families, whether they have public accommodations or not, are subject to Local Law 58 of 1987. Under LL58, if less than 50 percent of a multi-family building is being renovated, then only that portion of the building must meet ADA requirements. If more than 50 percent of the building is undergoing renovation, then the entire building, not just the affected areas, must be ADA-compliant.

The percentage of renovation is determined by comparing the cost of the renovations to the property value of the building. A building appraised at $10 million, for example, would meet the 50 percent threshold stipulated by LL58 only if the renovations were estimated to cost $5 million or more. In cases where an expensive repair in only a small area of a building - say, replacing an elevator - represents more than 50 percent of the building's value, the owner can request that the Department of Buildings determine the percentage based on square footage instead of repair costs.

If the renovations your condominium is planning do not amount to 50 percent of the value of the building (and they do not sound as if they do), then the ADA requirements apply only to areas of accessibility. On your building that would include the door, walkway, lobby, and the proposed ramp, but not the marquee.

To be ADA-compliant, the incline of the ramp must be no more than one inch in height for every twelve inches in length. If the ramp needs to rise 2 feet at its highest, for example, then it should measure at least 24 feet long along the ground. If the required length of the ramp causes it to extend onto or overlap the city sidewalk, then the building will need what is known as "revocable consent" from the New York City Department of Transportation. A revocable consent stipulation is a lease from the city to use its property (in this case, the sidewalk). The city reserves the right to revoke its consent at any time. The property owner has to leave a deposit with the city equal to the amount the city would need to spend to remove the structure.

To achieve ADA compliance, the ramp will also require solid, continuous (as opposed to staggered) handrails on both sides of the ramp. Handrails can be either wall-mounted or floor-mounted, but must be no smaller than 1 1/4 and no thicker than 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The handrails must also project at least 1 1/2 inches from the wall, maintain 36 inches of clear space between them, rise to between 30 and 34 inches in height from the ground and project horizontally 12 inches beyond the beginning and end of a ramp.

ADA requirements, by the way, permit more than just the industrial aluminum tubing rails that are often seen on ramps. A variety of materials and profiles of ADA-compliant railings are now available for matching the building's architectural or historic character. ADA design guidelines have been revised over the years to incorporate different products and solutions provided they meet minimum standards and are in accordance with the intent of the law.

Ramps cannot run continuously for more than 30 feet, so there must be a landing to break up any stretch of incline longer than that. There must also be a landing at the top and the bottom of a ramp of any length. All landings have to measure at least 5-feet wide by 5-feet long to accommodate a wheelchair's turning radius.

Since you're installing an ADA-compliant ramp, its corresponding entry door should be ADA-compliant as well. To meet ADA requirements, doors must have at least 32 inches clear width when opened to 90 degrees and have ADA-compliant door hardware that usually consists of a spring-activated lever instead of a knob. ADA guidelines also dictate that a door have a certain amount of clear space: at least 12 inches of clearance from latch to the wall closest to the opening when pushing the door in and 18 inches of clearance when pulling the door open.

Furthermore, when there are two doors in a series, such as in an entry vestibule, ADA requirements dictate that there be at least 48 inches of clear space between doors. If your main entrance consists of a revolving door, it is important to remember that you can maintain use of the revolving door provided it is not the only means of passage into an accessible entrance.

Although they aren't required by the ADA, proper lighting and a protective canopy over the ramp are conveniences that users will appreciate. Plus, it will signal that the ramp is an integral part of the building's design and not just an afterthought.

For residential buildings subject to the ADA (for example, one with a day care center), it is understandable that some of the requirements may be impossible to follow. The Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities issues waivers when strict compliance with ADA requirements would create an undue economic burden, not achieve its intended objective, be physically or legally impossible, or entail a change so slight as to produce a negligible additional benefit.

As with any upgrade project, the board is advised to consult with an architect or engineer on the feasibility of what's required to ensure the project meets ADA requirements, as well as for preparing drawings and specifications and obtaining the necessary work permits.

Rand Engineering, P.C. has been providing integrated engineering and architectural services to the co-op and condo community since 1987.

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