An unintended consequence of the 1992 Americans with Disability Act (ADA)

WARNING:  Some people may be offended by this post.



The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a US law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. ADA disabilities include both mental and physical medical conditions. A condition does not need to be severe or permanent to be a disability. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations provide a list of conditions that should easily be concluded to be disabilities: deafness, blindness, an intellectual disability (formerly termed mental retardation), partially or completely missing limbs or mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. (1).

Under Title III of the ADA, all new construction (construction, modification or alterations) after July 1992 must be fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) found in the Code of Federal Regulations at 28 C.F.R., Part 36, Appendix A.   (1)

Implementation of this code had profound implications on the size and shape of residential property throughout the US.  By dictating that a tenant in a wheelchair should have unimpeded access to every part of an apartment IN ALL THE APARTMENTS it had the unintended consequence increasing the sizes of the minimum allowable bathroom and kitchen in new construction and the accompanying increase in construction costs and reduction in the affordability to the non-disabled user.

As mentioned previously, ADA was meant to protect both people with physical and mental disabilities.  While someone in a wheelchair certainly needs unrestricted access to a bathroom, kitchen and ramp, someone with mental or other disability experience no impact on their ability to use ANY type of apartment.  So, for example, if 20% of the population is affected by disability caused by lack of mobility, the remaining 80% of the population covered under the ADA definition are perfectly capable of living in an apartment with smaller bathrooms and smaller kitchens.

Some people do not LIKE bathtubs and would rather have a shower instead.  Others don’t cook so a kitchenette would suffice.  Others prefer to live in an apartment where the bedrooms are located on the mezzanine and accessed through a stairway.  ALL of these possibilities are thrown out the window because they do not comply with ADA and are therefore illegal to build.  As a consequence, a typical 1 bedroom apartment is 50-100 SF larger than is absolutely necessary and the cost of the additional space is passed onto the tenant of purchaser.  In NYC a 1 bedroom apartment can range from as small as 350 SF to an average of 450 SF.  So ADA adds 15-30% to the cost of this apartment.

ADA mandates that ALL new apartments comply even though a very small percentage of the US (or NYC) population actually NEEDS an ADA apartment.  As a consequence, the rest of the population pays the price!


I am NOT here to propose repealing ADA because I believe everyone should have unimpeded access to decent and accessible housing and ADA guarantees that.  A building entrance, lobby, gym and any other common area SHOULD fully conform with ADA.  

What I am proposing is that we tie the number of required ADA units in newly constructed apartments to the percentage of the population that NEEDS it.  As mentioned in my previous example, if 40% of the US population is deemed disabled and half of those have a mobility disabled, then 20% of the apartments ought to be constructed with ADA bathrooms and kitchens.  


The US Census Bureau could compile this statistic in their 10-year Census and a multiplier should be applied to account for non-compliant buildings constructed before 1992 (I propose a multiplier of 1.5x).  If, for example, in the 2020 Census the percentage of mobility disabled Americans is 10% of the American population, then for the next 10 years every new apartment building in the US ought to have 20% of apartments comply with ADA (10% multiplied by 1.5x).  If the 2030 Census establishes that 20% of the US population is mobility disabled then for the next 10 years every new apartment buildingsought to have 30% of apartments comply with ADA (20% multiplied by 1.5x).  

Assuming that the standard 1 bedroom apartment is 350 SF and that ADA adds 70 SF to this, then the resulting effect of this would be to reduce the size of the entire building by 11.6% (70 SF reduction in a 420 SF apartment multiplied by 20% mobility disability with a multiplier factor of 1.5x).

Thats money in the renters (or buyers) pocket

(1) Wikipedia


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s