Handicapped parking regulation by states and local governments began in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Then beginning in the late 1960s, the federal government adopted a series of increasingly comprehensive regulations affecting handicapped parking. The most important were the Fair Housing Act (amended 1988)(FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The legal framework governing handicapped parking spots today is a mishmash of these regulations by federal, state and local governments. In general, there are two main areas of regulations: permit regulation and site regulation.
Permitting determines who is eligible to use handicapped parking spots. Permitting is generally regulated by the states, subject to federal mandates. The Department of Transportation promulgated rules that are used by most states, including Colorado, defining eligibility for handicapped parking permits based on six qualifying conditions: (1) inability to walk 200 feet without stopping to rest; (2) inability to walk without the use of or assistance from a device or person; (3) severe lung disease as measured by respiratory volume or arterial oxygen level; (4) use of portable oxygen; (5) cardiac condition of American Heart Association Class III or IV; or (6) severe limitation in the ability to walk due to an arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic condition. In Colorado, medical doctors, licensed podiatrists and advanced practice nurses can certify these conditions. Once certified, permits must generally be renewed annually and recertified every three years.
Site rules depend on the location of the handicapped parking spot. To begin with, there are special rules under the ADA for a wide variety of facilities open to the public. These rules basically require a certain number of reserved parking spaces be available in certain locations. In addition to the general requirements, the ADA requires special workplace parking for handicapped employees on a case-by-case basis.
In the case of multi-family residential projects, the applicable rules during construction are principally found in the FHA. All construction since 1988 has been required to meet certain design standards for handicapped accessibility. Projects constructed before 1988 are not subject to design standards (except as may be triggered by renovation), but may be required to provide accommodations to individual handicapped residents on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, landlords may be required to provide handicapped parking facilities to their tenants. Also, unit owners' associations may sometimes have their own rules pertaining to handicapped parking.
Local governments have the power to designate handicapped parking spaces on public property including streets. Improper parking in such spaces is punishable by law enforcement. Local regulation may also permit law enforcement to enforce handicapped parking rules on private property that is open to the public. Colorado law permits local governments to exempt handicapped persons from parking time restrictions and limits time restrictions for handicapped parking spaces to four hours.
Under Colorado law, each designated handicapped parking space whether on public or private property must be marked with an official upright sign identifying such parking space as reserved for use by persons with disabilities. Owners of private property available for public use may request the installation of official signs identifying reserved parking spaces and such request waives the owners' rights to object to handicapped parking enforcement by local authorities.
Handicapped parking rules have long suffered from lack of effective enforcement. As George Costanza learned when he parked his father's car in a handicapped parking space and returned to find a mob destroying the vehicle after a woman in a wheelchair unable to find a reserved parking spot was injured, enforcement of handicapped parking rules as a social norm remains the most effective approach.
Noah Klug is principal of The Klug Law Firm, LLC, located in Summit County. His practice focuses on business, real estate, and litigation. He may be reached at (970) 468-4953 or Noah@TheKlugLawFirm.com.