In 1987, New York passed Local Law 58, a landmark law mandating that residences be built to accommodate the handicapped. Upper level floors, for instance, had to be accessible by elevator, and doors needed to be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. However, if you suspect many apartments still don’t seem very wheelchair-friendly, you’d be right.
LL58 applies to all new buildings built after its passing, but it was not applied retroactively to existing buildings. It simply wasn’t practical–the amount of work and expense that would have to go into renovating existing buildings would be astronomical.
That being said, there are two situations in which LL58 does apply to pre-1987 buildings—renovation and change in building use. Buildings that undergo “major renovations,” or those defined by the Department of Buildings as costing more than 50% of the cost of replacing the entire building, must incorporate the necessary accessibility requirements of LL58 into its renovation plans to bring the entire building up to new standards. (Minor renovations, or renovations that would cost less than 50%, don’t have to accommodate LL58, however.)
Regardless of renovation size, the entire building must be renovated for accessibility if the building’s use changes (i.e., from commercial or residential).
Sometimes, however, the necessary renovations an older building requires simply aren’t practical for a variety of reasons—too expensive, too impractical, structurally impossible… In cases like these, building owners may apply for a waiver from the Department of Buildings.
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