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The elevator in the building has been out of order for several years (in the spring of 2008, it had been out of order for two years) (0114). This provides for the recurring motif of conversations taking place up four flights of stairs. It also forces large packages and furniture to be moved upstairs by muscle power, which can be problematic (0102, 0114, 0219).

Leonard's mother, upon first arriving at the building, contemplated the broken elevator and surmised that it suggested either "a remarkable passivity among the ... residents" or a "shared delusion of functionality" (0215).

Even more remarkable, actually, is the fact that, when hunting a cricket, Sheldon lowered himself down the broken elevator shaft to look for it (0302).

The elevator was originally broken seven years ago, shortly after Leonard moved in with Sheldon. Leonard, Howard, and Raj were messing around with a top secret rocket fuel in the kitchen when it ignited. The canister was about to blow up and Leonard ran with it to the elevator. Sheldon, realizing that Leonard would never make it down to the ground floor and outside in time, put the canister in the elevator by itself and pressed the down button. A few seconds after the elevator door closed, the fuel blew up and the elevator was destroyed (0322). NOTE: This is an inconsistency with the statement from an earlier episode where it was mentioned that the elevator had been out of order for only two years (0114).

From an interview with Bill Prady:

Is the elevator ever going to be fixed, or does it work too well as a device?
We’re very proud of the elevator. What the elevator and the stairs allowed us to create is two things. One is the set design of most sitcom apartments gives you an L-shaped entrance where the characters — think Friends — enter this way and then walk toward the cameras. And it’s really short. If you want a longer conversation, if you want a walk and talk conversation, you have to come up with another set for it. You often do this by driving in the car or walking on the street. But this way we were able to do our walk and talk on our stage. So it’s terrific.
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