Handicap Parking: What Your Homeowners Association Must Know

November 2010
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Is your condo or homeowners association required to provide handicapped parking for residents and visitors? If so, how many spaces do you need, and where must they be? What if an owner requests handicapped parking? Can you require proof, and where must you locate the spot? When can you legally deny the request? Here, we answer those questions.

Check State and Federal Disability Laws

Whether you're required to provide handicapped parking spaces in your association is governed by your state's and federal laws. "In Florida, handicapped parking spaces are required in associations," says Robert White, managing director of KW Property Management & Consulting in Miami, which oversees about 125 associations totaling 30,000-35,000 units.

In Arizona, however, the issue will depend on various factors. "When we're looking at whether there has to be handicapped parking, there may be some zoning requirements for the development," says Kristen L. Rosenbeckk, a partner at the Mulcahy Law Firm PC in Phoenix, which represents associations. Perhaps your developer was required to include a certain number of handicapped parking spaces to get zoning approval.

If that wasn't the case, and your local zoning regulations don't including handicapped parking requirements that cover your association, you may not be off the hook. If your association has facilities open to the public, it must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and provide handicapped parking. Check with your association's attorney on the number of spaces you must provide for your association.

"Most associations aren't open to the public and won't fall under the requirements of the ADA," says Rosenbeck. "Then the question would come down to a Fair Housing Act issue. If an owner makes a request for a handicapped spot, your association has to make a reasonable accommodation."

What You Can Ask Owners about Disabilities

You can ask for supporting documents proving the owner's need for a parking spot. "Typically, if the owner makes a reasonable request, the association can ask for some form of documentation," says Rosenbeck. "That may be a letter from a doctor saying, 'This is the disability, and this is how the owner's request is related to the disability.'"

The owner's proof must show why a handicapped parking spot is related to the owner's disability. "If the owner is asking for this parking space to be near her unit and she claims her disability involves trouble walking, that's likely going to be a reasonable accommodation," says Rosenbeck. "But let's say the person claims to be agoraphobic and asks for a ramp to be built to her unit. That' probably isn't related. A ramp is to accommodate a wheelchair."

When an owner's documentation is unreasonably vague, you can reject the owner's request. But be sure to check with your attorney before denying a request based on inadequate proof of or insufficient correlations to a disability. There's a fine line between requiring enough detail to evaluate an accommodation and demanding so much information that you're invading an owner's medical privacy.

Where to Locate a Handicapped Parking Space

Often, the thorny issue for associations isn't whether to provide a handicapped space to a disabled resident but where to locate it. When determining where to place a handicapped spot, again turn to the question of reasonability.

"You're not required to change your entire parking structure unless that would be reasonable for what's being requested," says Rosenbeck. But whether a location is reasonable is usually determined on a case-by-case basis. For example, in 1997, a court held that a Virginia association's request to the state to designate a handicapped parking space on a street near the association was reasonable. Despite the owner's complaint that his car could be damaged on the street, the court upheld the association's solution because parking was limited in the association, and the street space was about the same distance to the owner's unit as an association spot.

On the other hand, a federal court held that it was unreasonable for a New York association to handle a request for handicapped parking by placing the owner's name in its queue of residents waiting for the next available parking space; the association should have leapfrogged the request to the front of the line.

If you're unsure about where to locate a handicapped parking space, consult your association's attorney.

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