Q. My wife and I are “snowbirds” — we have a home up north for summer use and spend winters in a resort community in a southern state. Several years ago we purchased a winter home here and planned to take advantage of amenities like the community clubhouse and swimming pool. However, during the past few years my MS has progressed and it is now necessary for me to use a wheelchair for mobility. I am also unable to climb stairs into or out of the swimming pool, so I requested the resort management to install a pool lift so that I — and several other residents in similar situations — could have access to the water.
The manager responded that they would not be installing a pool lift. Not only that, they stated in the letter that they would not be installing pool lifts at any of the resort communities they own (I think there are at least seven of them in this state). The company that owns and manages these resorts is a multimillion-dollar corporation, and they gave no reason why they were refusing my request.
This property is also rented out to the public, as some owners pay the management to lease out their homes when they are not using them. They also rent out properties that are vacant. These renters have the same access to the features of the resort community as those of us who are permanent property owners.
What can I do to get this pool lift installed, and perhaps to see similar accessibility improvements undertaken in the other resort communities operated by this company? Is the situation covered by the ADA? I am tired of fighting for my rights alone and want this access to happen very soon.
A. The updated ADA Standards for Accessible Design of 2010 provided guidelines for access to swimming pools for both Title II and Title III entities. Those rules thus cover public entities and public accommodations, such as lodging facilities. Effective March 15, 2012 newly constructed pools and those that can be modified under the readily achievable guidelines must provide a means of access for people with mobility disabilities. Access to those pools can be provided by a variety of means, including pool lifts or sloped entries usable by wheelchairs. Many lodging establishments and municipalities have already complied with the revised standards.
On first blush, this resort community appears to be a public accommodation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, due to the practice of renting homes to outsiders and including access to the pool and community room. However, when it comes to rentals, the definition of lodging establishments has some fine points regarding the length of rentals and the way they are handled that complicate the matter. Because of that, and since I am not an attorney, I would recommend a multi-pronged approach to solving your problem.
The first step would be to contact the Disability Business ADA Technical Assistance Center serving your region to see if it can provide a definitive answer about whether access is required in your community’s pools under the ADA. This toll free number — 800/949-4232 — works from all states. DBTAC should also be able to inform you how to contact the appropriate nonprofit disability law projects that serve every state, as well as some disability-specific legal firms. Qualified attorneys who have worked with disability civil rights laws can give you the answers you seek, and there may even be a more restrictive state law that applies. State laws often have more generous compensation available for victims of discrimination, and their attorneys, than federal laws.
The last step would be to start a petition drive to convince as many of your fellow residents as possible to join you in requesting the management to provide access to a key feature of these communities: swimming pools. At the very least it would alert other residents to the situation, as they may not understand that an access problem exists.
Since the firm that manages this resort community owns and operates so many similar communities, in multiple states, there should be interest in setting a precedent for all of them. Pool access will benefit the many individuals with disabilities, and seniors who will soon be disabled, who purchase or rent homes with the expectation that they will have the same access to all amenities enjoyed by their neighbors.
• ADA Technical Assistance Centers: 800/949-4232
• Department of Justice ADA resources: www.ada.gov