New ADA Pool Lift Rules Cause Confusion

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It's never easy for businesspeople to wade through the morass of government regulations they need to digest and apply. The latest wrinkle in impossible-to-decipher bureaucratic red tape comes courtesy of the Department of Justice and its impending new ADA rules regarding pool lifts.

As it stands today, by March 15 all hotel pools and spas must be equipped with permanent lifts to help guests with physical disabilities get in and out of the pools. A separate lift is mandated for each pool, hot tub, wading pool—indoors and out—at every hotel (as well as health clubs, public pools, etc.). Cost of a lift is typically around $5,000 or more, a burden for all lodging properties and especially tough for hotels and resorts with multiple pools and spas.

What's frustrating is that until recently most hotel owners believed they only needed to have a portable pool lift available for any guest who needed assistance. That was the common understanding from Justice Department rules released two years ago. But in recent months, the final version of the regulations came to light, and now many hoteliers are scrambling to meet the new test. (Anecdotally, I've even heard of some operators—especially in the budget end of the lodging spectrum—paying to close their pools and fill-in the ground rather than face the new regs. Effective to be sure, but it might not be the best long-term solution.)

I pity the lobbyists at the American Hotel & Lodging Association. They've been working overtime the past several months to, first of all, get clarification of the new rules and, secondly, to argue that the requirement of permanent, affixed lifts is overkill and not necessary. As late as last week, the AH&LA reached out to the Justice Department seeking what it called “restoration of common sense” interpretation of the law. As try as they might, I rate the chances of that happening as somewhere between slim and none.

In the meantime, you should be making plans to comply with the law. And while the government won't be sending around inspectors to make sure you're following the new rules, there are packs of unscrupulous lawyers who will be on the lookout for hotels not in compliance. When they find them, they'll convince disabled persons to file complaints or suits over the issue. This type of drive-by litigation is what gives the legal profession a bad name.

In the meantime, consult your local or state hotel association or the AH&LA or AAHOA to see what resources they may have available to you.

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