Which country do you think has the most elevators? Did you know that it is Spain, with 19.8 elevators per 1,000 population?  But with 65% of Spanish citizens living in apartment buildings it makes sense that there are so many elevators. Compare that with the United States that have 2.8 elevators per thousand population, or China with 2.2 per thousand.

As reported in the New York Times by Keith Bradsher China now wants to change all of that, and hopes to retrofit as many as three million older walkup buildings with elevators, projecting the cost at roughly $100,000 USD per installation.

Why?  As China’s older population is aging, they have also acquired wealth, and are now demanding being better served by their government.

During the Mao regime in the 1960’s families were urged to have many children who are now coming to be 60 years of age. A subsequent “one child” policy in the 1970’s  means that these seniors do not have children and grandchildren ot assist them as they age.

The city of Guangzhou has taken advantage of a federal government grant of $93,000 per elevator installation and has already retrofitted 6,000 older buildings. That city required two-thirds of strata  owners to agree to the project before installation.

This “elevator policy” is seen as a national employment incubator to provide jobs for millions of unemployed migrant workers. But there is a wrinkle~elevators come from a very small group of global manufacturers and are dominated by names familiar to North Americans. Otis Elevator, Schindler, and Kone are prominent. So while those firms will get the contract to install elevators, the job of the building retrofit for the elevator will be done by a small group of specialized Chinese contractors.

Back to British Columbia which also has a lot of three storey walk up apartments in towns and cities that do not have elevators. What happens when a resident has a mobility issue and requires an elevator or a stair assist?

Katie De Rosa in the Times Colonist has just written about the case of a Nanaimo senior, Ada Jacobsen that asked her condominum strata to accommodate her need for a wheelchair ramp for mobility. The strata refused, even though three of the residents in the 32 units had a mobility disability. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled in the senior resident’s favour, with an award for loss of dignity and an order for the strata to prepare drawings for an interior or exterior elevator for the building.

In the judgement the Tribunal stated “I find that the Strata’s property is not accessible to Ms. Jacobsen because of her disability. While the Strata did make some changes and took some steps, albeit after an unreasonable period of delay, it did not take all reasonable and practical steps to remove the disability‐related barriers. As a result, the Strata has not satisfied its obligation to accommodate Ms. Jacobsen’s disability.”

You can read the full judgement here.

Images: AtlanticMonthly,Indiamart, MGAelevator


  1. I’ll bet China’s walk-ups are a lot more than three stories.

    WRT the woman with the disability, I do wonder if the courts considered the difficulty in getting permits for additions to buildings that were often maxed out at the time of construction and may still fall under the same rules. And it may be entirely impractical if not impossible the add an elevator to the exterior or to find space within the existing building to accommodate one. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have compassion for somebody who becomes injured or disabled but I think requiring a strata to suddenly provide for them is opening a messy can of worms.

    If a variance is required to get permits or if cities have to change their zoning bylaws to ensure additions for elevators you can guarantee the remedy is years away anyway. What in the meantime? You’d be better off moving. Yes, I get it, this exercise may be more about making it easier for the next person.

    I suspect most three storey walk-ups do not have hallways that terminate at an outside wall where an elevator could be tacked on and even if it did there may not be enough side yard to accommodate the addition. That means taking space away from inside the building. Where are you ever going to find that?

    1. Living in a 4-storey that (luckily) was built with an elevator, I can understand your concerns. City building departments do not make it easy for retrofits as discussed, and neither do 70s/80s/maybe even 90s apartment-building layouts!

      That being said, I spend a fair bit of time in urban Europe. Their elevators (very common, even in small-footprint buildings) are much smaller than ours. Really just the size of a square shower stall. I’ve recently been looking at the records for our elevator reno, which was done a few years ago. A catalogue from one of the big N American companies was in the file. I looked, and they didn’t even seem to supply the smaller European-sized ones! I wonder why not…?

  2. The elevators in my condo building are a big drain on maintenance costs. They are 25 year old Otis elevators, 3 of them serving a 29 storey building, and we’ve just had a special assessment for upgrades (technology upgrade and cable replacement).
    That $93,000 for an elevator in China seems incredibly cheap.
    Even at that cost, it’ll be $3000 for each of the 32 units to accommodate the complainants (including the complainants themselves) – more likely it’ll be at least $10,000 per unit if a permitted addition has to be added to the building for a new elevator lobby, etc.

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