Active adult communities often purchase transport buses for the use of their owners and residents. In relation to such a purchase, that community must consider whether any such bus must be equipped to service the disabled. Title III of the American’s With Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) and additional federal statutes require that owners and lessors implement regulations to provide reasonable access for places of public accommodation. Housing providers are specifically charged with an affirmative obligation to change “rules, policies practices or services” that may be necessary to accommodate people with disabilities and afford them an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling. See 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B). If a provider offers a program or service to all members of a community, then that program or service must be equally available to all people — including those with disabilities.
However, the range of Title III obligations only applies to “public accommodations.” In order to be considered a public accommodation, an entity must be (1) private; (2) affect commerce and; (3) fall within one of twelve categories, some of which include places of public gathering, recreation, and education, among others. There are additional facts that trigger ADA requirements in Title III. In the end, and generally, the issue of whether a members-only bus constitutes a “public accommodation” turns on whether the particular association is a “social service center establishment.” Various state laws and cases provide additional insight as to whether a particular association is a “public accommodation”.
Of interest is an Ocean County, New Jersey dispute from several years ago. In Ocean County’s Leisure Village East Condominium, a resident successfully elicited a $24,000 settlement from the condominium association as a result of unlawful discrimination for a failure to provide reasonable accommodations. See http://22.214.171.124/state/lakewoods-leisure-village-east-condo-association-settles-discrimination-complaints. There, a sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease filed a complaint against the Association after being denied an assigned parking space which would reduce the distance of her 150-walk to her car. The resident also alleged that “she could not take her walker on shopping trips because the shuttle bus…lacked an activated lower step – also referred to as a kneeling step.” As a result of the settlement, the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights Director, Chinh Q. Le proclaimed that, “condominium associations have a duty under the law to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled…it’s our hope these cases will serve as a reminder and an example for condominium associations throughout the state.” Notably, the Leisure Village case attracted the attention of New Jersey’s Housing Investigation Unit and Attorney General’s office.
An association faced with this question can always consult various aspects of the United States Department of Justice, and United States Department of Housing & Urban Development, websites for insight.