January 15, 1999
The Honorable Charles T. Canady
Member, U.S. House of Representatives
124 South Tennessee Avenue, Suite 125
Lakeland, Florida 33801
Dear Congressman Canady:
This is in response to your letter requesting information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on behalf of your constituent, Mr. xxxxxxxxxxxx of Dade City, Florida. Please excuse our delay in responding.
You have asked whether a convenience store and a restaurant may be exempted from requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the facilities were built before the ADA was passed. Your constituent, Mr. xxxx, had been told by the owners of the facilities that they were "grandfathered in" and exempt from ADA requirements.
In response to your question, title III of the ADA addresses accessibility requirements for public accommodations. Convenience stores and restaurants are considered places of public accommodation, as defined by the ADA's twelve categories of places of public accommodation. No places of public accommodation are exempted from title III requirements, regardless of their age. Older buildings, that are places of public accommodations, are not "grandfathered" under the ADA.
Some facility owners may not understand that ADA requirements may be different from requirements of a local building code. Although the facility may be "grandfathered" according to the local building code, the ADA does not have a provision to "grandfather" a facility.
While a local building authority may not require any modifications to bring a building "up to code" until a renovation or major alteration is done, the ADA requires that a place of public accommodation remove barriers that are readily achievable even when no alterations or renovations are planned.
Readily achievable means that barrier removal is easily accomplishable and can be done without much difficulty or expense. Any physical modifications that would be truly "physically impossible" would not be readily achievable, and would not be required under the ADA. For your information, I have enclosed the ADA Guide for Small Businesses and an ADA-TA publication for further discussion of these issues.
I have also enclosed information about the Department's ADA Mediation Program which has been established to help resolve complaints locally. This information provides guidance on how the program may be used.
I hope this information is useful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.
Bill Lann Lee
Civil Rights Division