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  • Diana Williams

ADA requirements for buildings built before 1990

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

ADA requirements for buildings

All the buildings in the United States of America must have ADA permits that show that the facilities are friendly to the people living with disabilities. Permit specialists process the applications for permits for construction or building projects. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that forbids discrimination based on disability in the United States of America. It applies in all the public spheres that include jobs, transportation, schools, and all the private and public places used by the public.

Permit Studio is your reliable partner for these critical processes. As a seasoned Permit Expediter, our primary role is to streamline and simplify the labyrinthine process of acquiring building permits. We specialize in assisting clients, especially in the busy construction hub of Chicago. Our expertise in Building Permits Chicago is well renowned, with our services highly sought after by contractors and developers alike.

At, we understand that time is of the essence in any construction project. To this end, we offer unmatched Permit Expediting Services designed to take the stress off your shoulders and keep your project on track. Whether you're a homeowner looking to renovate or a developer with a significant project, our Permit Management system is designed to handle every detail, allowing you to focus on the essential aspects of your project.

The law aims to make sure that the people living with disabilities enjoy the same rights as the people in society. The act became law in 1990 to promote the welfare of the people living with disabilities in the United States of America. Let’s read more about ADA requirements for buildings before 1990.

ADA requirements for buildings built before 1990

You need permit expending services to ensure that you get your permits on time and that you are compliant with ADA. Permit specialists can make the process of certification to be much easier and straight to the point. ADA requirements make buildings accessible to people living with disabilities in the United States of America. The act requires the buildings built before its promulgation to remove the barriers that restrict the people living with disabilities from accessing the building. There is a common misconception that the buildings constructed before the enactment of ADA are "grandfathered"; hence they are not expected to comply with the ADA requirements. However, it is essential to note that ADA does not protect the buildings put up before it was passed. However, it has a provision called "safe harbor" that favors that buildings made before the promulgation of ADA. A "safe harbor means that a person does not need to make modifications on a building that was made before ADA was passed into law to comply with the 1991 ADA standards even if there are different requirements that have been put in place by the 2010 ADA standards. Safe harbor is applied on an element-to-element basis.

What are ADA requirements for old buildings?

An ADA permit specialist will help you understand the ADA requirements for old buildings. This section gives the important information that you are supposed to know as a business person, a government agency and the organizations that provide services to the clients. ADA requirement for the structures that were constructed before 1991. Various building owners believe that ADA only applies to the buildings being set up and the new alterations made on the new facilities. However, ADA does not require the owners of the old buildings to remove the barriers to accessibility in their structures. It is essential to understand the circumstances under which the owners of the buildings are supposed to remove the obstacles to comply with the ADA. According to Title III, discrimination entails failing to remove architectural barriers that make it hard for the disabled to access the building unless it is impossible to remove the obstacles or remove such barriers, leading to the destruction of the existing buildings. ADA defines a repair as achievable when it can be done without so much difficulty or without undergoing many expenses. There are several factors to be considered when determining whether the removal of a barrier is readily achievable or not, namely:

· The cost to be incurred in the barrier removal process

· The financial resources that are required in the removal of the barriers

· The number of employees in the facility

· The effect that the barrier removal has on the expenses and resources

· The impact that the barrier removal on the facility

· The amount available to make the modifications

These factors are important because the court will consider them when deciding a case that alleges ADA compliance. The information on how these factors are viewed can be found in the court decisions made in the past.

Who is exempt from ADA?

The parts of the buildings that the members of the public do not use are exempted from ADA. According to section 4.1.1 of the legislation, the "non-occupiable" spaces that cannot be easily accessed include the narrow passageway and ladders that are only accessed by the service personnel to conduct repairs, maintenance, and monitoring the equipment in the building. This exemption is expanded in sections 203.4 and 203.4 of the 2010 standards reveals that the exemptions apply to the areas with limited access and the places and the other areas that contain machinery. The 2010 standards give more exemptions.

Sections 203, 206, and 215 address the exemptions concerning the employee work areas. Section 4.1.1 in the 1991 standards and section 203.9 of the 2010 standards require that the working places in the buildings are supposed to be designed so that the people with disabilities can access and exit the areas. Exemptions to Section 206.2.8 of 2010 notes that some of the requirements outlined in section 402 in the case where it may be challenging to comply with the technical requirement because of the area's size and function. The exemptions include:

· The workplaces that are less than 300 square feet have to be elevated by 1 inch and above to work better and safer.

· The circulation paths that are less than 1,000 square feet are described as permanently installed partitions, counters, and kitchens.

· The buildings that are except also include the ones whose modification will alter their basic structure significantly.

· The everyday use circulation paths found where the employees are working and are essential for their function.

ADA grandfather clause

ADA does not have a "grandfather clause," but it is important to note that the law is flexible. City governments have to comply with both the 1991 and 2010 ADA standards and ensure that the buildings are accessible to people living with disabilities. When the 1991 ADA standards were introduced, some small businesses were allowed not to comply with the provisions if the buildings or structures were built before ADA 1991 was instituted. However, ADA 20110 removed the "grandfather clause." It is unnecessary for you to meet the 2010 provisions in one go; your property has to meet the 1991 regulation unless you are exempted.

Who must comply with ADA requirements?

Various companies and organizations in the United States of America have to meet the ADA requirements to fulfill the welfare of the people living with disabilities. Compliance to the ADA requirements puts a business in good books with the government and enables a given company or organization to serve the people living with disabilities in the best way possible. ADA applies to organizations and businesses that fit one or more of the following criteria:

· The privately-run companies in the United States of America that 15 or more employees.

· Any business that serves the general public in the United States of America.

· All the local, state, county, and the federal government agencies

· Charitable organizations as well as non-governmental organizations that have 115 employees or not.

ADA 20 percent rule

The rule is most of the time overlooked, but it is important. According to the law, when an area of primary function in an existing building is renovated, the Path of Travel to that area must be brought up to Code unless in the case where the cost and the scope of the repair, alteration or change that is being done is disproportionate to the cost of renovating the area of primary function and the level in which the costs are disproportionate is 20 percent. The primary area of function includes the site arrival points, entry drinking fountains, telephones, and rest rooms among other areas in the building. The ADA 20 percent rule has been put in place to make it easy to comply with the ADA requirements.

Readily achievable barrier removal

Readily achievable barrier removal means that it can be easily accomplished and does not take more difficulty and expense. The process of removing barriers should not be so complicated to the point that it makes the company undergo a loss rather, it is supposed to cost less.

Safe Harbor Provision

Safe harbor is a legal provision that eliminates a legal or regulatory liability in some situations on the condition that some conditions have been met. Safe harbor in the context of ADA means that a landlord does not have to modify the elements in the building that comply with 1991 ADA standards even if the requirements were changed with the introduction of the 2010 ADA standards.


In conclusion, it is important to note that meeting the ADA requirements is important because it shows that a given company or organization cares about the welfare of the people living with disabilities. Taking care of the people in society should be part of the main objective of many businesses as more effort is put in place to ensure that any form of discrimination is a thing of the past. ADA is a provision that has been brought up to deal with discrimination on the basis of disability. However, the provisions can only be useful if they are effectively enforced in the country.

Navigating the complex landscape of building permits and permit expediting doesn't have to be a daunting task. At Permit Studio, we are dedicated to making the process hassle-free and efficient. Whether you are in Chicago or elsewhere, our expert team is ready to help. Don't hesitate, contact us today and let us help you with obtaining your building permits in a timely manner. Our commitment is to your project's success.

ADA requirements for buildings

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