The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan recently sent out letters to notify some of the city's most important landlords that certain buildings were not accessible to people with disabilities, and therefore discriminatory under the Fair Housing Act passed in 1988.
This important dispute is centered on making apartment interiors accessible to the disabled, and does not address the very widespread existence of stepped building entrances that are difficult for the disabled to navigate.
Some buildings offer ramps to solve the problem. The mixed-use Carnegie Tower at 115 E. 87th St., for example, houses the Robert F. Kennedy School on its lower floors and a large, landscaped plaza on 87th Street with a nine-step entrance. The building, erected in 1973, also offers a long ramp to the west of its raised entrance, set back behind its sidewalk landscaping.
A more discreet access ramp is at 838 Fifth Ave., on the southeast corner of 65th Street, across from Temple Emanu-El. Its entrance is only two short steps up, but it also has a ramp behind a low hedgerow. The building was originally designed by Harry Prince in 1950 for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and was converted to residential condominiums and enlarged by the architectural firms of Beyer Blinder Belle and SLCE.
A more visible disabled access ramp can be found on the north side of the four-step entrance to the Bretton Hall apartment building, designed by Harry Mulliken in 1902, at 2350 Broadway, between 85th and 86th streets.
Recently, the New-York Historical Society, on Central Park West, and the Visiting Nurse Service, on 70th Street between Park and Madison avenues, have begun planning disabled entrance access.
At the mid-block office tower at 40 E. 52nd St., the Rudin Management Co. erected a large, elegant lobby extending through the block to 53rd Street. There are two broad sets of stairs in the wide lobby, but the east side of the lobby has two "loggias" with gentle ramps for the disabled.
While ramps provide viable alternatives to steps, they are few and far between. The problems are often not confined to front steps as many older buildings have stairs in their lobbies and vestibules.
At 863 Park Ave., for example, the imposing side-street entrance across from Lenox Hill Hospital has five stairs, and there are another three stairs to reach the lobby's elevator level. Pollard & Steinam designed the building in 1907.
Mr. Horsley is the editor of CityRealty.com.