top of page
  • Writer's pictureEngineer Mike

Construction Defects Related to American Disabilities Act (ADA) Construction Defects

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 and was amended in 2009. It is a civil rights law, not a building code, that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and public and private places open to the general public. This law has been converted to a Design Guide, based on the ADA, provides architecture and engineering standards and specifications that jurisdictions have to follow.

Sidewalk tripping hazards and standing water.
Sidewalk tripping hazards are one of the most common ADA violations. The entity responsible for sidewalks and pavement must take the initiative to repair this damage by grinding or concrete replacement.

The Title III section of this law applies to public accommodations which cover privately-owned, leased, or operated facilities, such as common areas owned by the HOA.


Why You Should Care About the ADA

Thousands of ADA Title III lawsuits are filed annually in the United States. Regarding physical facilities, lawsuits generally pertain to on-site maintenance and access. Homeowner Associations must maintain common areas and facilities to applicable ADA standards and can be liable for these deficiencies if discrimination or injuries occur.

ADA standards and regulations are important because:

  • People with difficulties walking or maintaining balance or who use crutches, canes, or walkers, and those with restricted gaits are susceptible to slipping and tripping hazards. A stable and regular surface is necessary for safe walking, particularly on stairs.

  • People in wheelchairs need hard and stable surfaces to propel safely and easily. Soft or loose surfaces such as shag carpet, loose sand or gravel, wet clay, and irregular surfaces such as cobblestones can significantly impede wheelchair movement.

  • For both pedestrians and people in wheelchairs, ground and floor surfaces must be stable, firm, and properly sloped.

If your Homeowners Association does not properly maintain site elements to comply with ADA regulations, there is a risk of lawsuits. Since you are a member of the HOA, it's your money.


ADA Design Standards

Professional engineers and architects must follow the ADA Standards for Accessible Design in conjunction with local building codes for the design, construction, and alteration of sites, buildings, and facilities to accommodate the use and access needs of disabled individuals.

2010 A.D.A. Standards for Accessible Design available here.


Ground Surfaces

Guidelines for the design and layout of ground surfaces are part of the ADA standards. Differential movement between pavement sections, cracks, and deterioration can cause trip hazards or ambulatory difficulties for pedestrians and individuals in wheelchairs. In addition, flat pavement slopes can result in slippery conditions due to water buildup or ice. Steep slopes may affect an individual’s ability to balance properly and may be unmanageable for individuals in wheelchairs or with walkers.

Close-up of crack in sidewalk measured with a tape measure.
Cracks and separations that are more than 1/2-inch are a life-safety issue and require repair.



Horizontal openings in the ground or floor surfaces must be constructed to ensure the safety of pedestrians and wheelchairs with openings of no more than 1/2 inch. This applies to drain inlets.

ADA pedestrian-safe inlet grate.

Pedestrian-safe grate in concrete patio.
"Pedestrian-safe" inlets are used in walkways and landscaped areas to comply with the minimum 1/2-inch opening. (Inlets in roadways are typically not the "pedestrian-safe" type.)

Tripping Hazards

Vertical movement of flatwork and pavement can create tripping hazards. ADA allows for a maximum of 1/4-inch of vertical difference.

ADA 1/4-inch change in elevation.

Vertical diselevation at sidewalk joint measured by a measuring tape.
Tripping hazards are a life-safety issue and require repair.

For vertical differences of more than 1/4-inch, the edges must be beveled by grinding or cutting, or the concrete sections must be replaced.

ADA beveling of pavement.

Sidewalk repaired by grinding at joints.
The grinding of sidewalks and pavement is a common repair of tripping hazards.

Damage at handicap ramp.
It is essential to inspect for tripping hazards and maintain ADA (handicap) ramps regularly.


Handicap Parking Spaces

Providing an accessible, safe space for people with disabilities to park in a lot is an important part of ADA. The ADA Design Guide sets criteria for locations, dimensions of loading areas, pavement slope, and signage of parking spaces.

A common construction defect related to ADA parking spaces is a pavement slope that is either too flat or too steep. This problem can be due to a design defect or a construction mistake. A flat slope does not allow water to shed properly, allowing for water and ice build-up. Steep slopes can be unstable.

Deteriorated asphalt in handicap parking area.
Deteriorated or damaged pavement at handicap parking spaces can be a tripping hazard and requires regular maintenance and repair when required.



Drainage problems related to ADA access and safety can be due to maintenance issues or construction defects.

Flat areas or bird baths (shallow puddles on pavement) are caused by inadequate pavement slopes, preventing the pavement's surface from properly draining. Asphalt depressions holding water of only a depth more than the thickness of a coin are hazardous and can lead to wet slippery, or icy conditions. It is difficult for pedestrians, especially those with mobility and balance issues, to notice or gauge how deep the very shallow depths of standing water are, and take the proper precautions when traveling on such surfaces. For these reasons, it is important to maintain pavements, sidewalks, and ramp surfaces so that they comply with ADA standards.

Drainage, which is allowed to seep onto ADA parking areas and flatwork (indicated by staining in this photograph), can cause slippery algae growth in the summer and ice build-up in the winter.

Staining from water flow on a handicap ramp.
Staining on pavement indicates problematic drainage flow that should be corrected or repaired. Water affects both pavements and the soil underneath.


I hope this information was helpful to you. For additional topics related to construction defects, go to

Visit my photo collections page, which has examples of damage that can be due to construction defects.  


Engineer Mike


Additional Resources

3 views0 comments


bottom of page