Even if you have the best of intentions, the rules and regulations for accessibility compliance can be so complicated that you might feel like you need to get a specialized degree to understand them. In fact, they’re so labyrinthine at times that inspectors, auditors and regulatory agencies misinterpret them, causing multifamily owners to spend money they don’t have to fix problems that aren’t really there.
However, not complying with these regulations can be even more expensive because you could incur penalties, fines and even lawsuits. So let’s try to get a better understanding of what these federal regulations say and, just as important, what they don’t say.
The Americans With Disabilities Act
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) set up some requisite codes to make publicly accessible places more friendly to people with disabilities. This is an important distinction. Many multifamily builders and owners think they have to have a certain number of ADA-compliant units to meet the requirement…NOT TRUE!. The ADA refers only to public accommodations, so you do not have to offer ADA units, which are considered private spaces.
You will need to make sure your walkways, entrances, pools and other public spaces are compliant, including the rental office and parking lot. You must have a “Van Accessible” spot that is 8 feet in width and a certain number of standard spots that are 5 feet wide.
The Fair Housing Act
If you believe word of mouth, you might think that the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 don’t differentiate between adaptable units and accessible units. Here’s the real deal: any building constructed after March 13, 1991 has to have design features that make them adaptable should a disabled person move in. Also, any building with an elevator and every ground unit must adhere to this standard. As an example, this may include something like reinforced walls in the bathroom so that you can easily add grab bars.
There’s one exception: if the unit is a townhouse (or any single unit with multiple levels), it does not have to comply with these rules. That is unless there’s an elevator.
American National Standards Institute
If you’ve spent any time around multifamily construction and ownership, you’ve probably heard about ANSI Type A and Type B units. The code set out by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) can be particularly confusing, but here are some of the more broad characteristics of both.
Type A units are governed by the International Building Code and must make up 2% of primarily permanent occupancy (R-2), as long as the complex has over 20 units. These are some of the essential features of Type A:
- Lower shelving
- Ample turning radiuses
- Lever-style door handles
- Accessible thresholds
- Lower bathrooms and kitchen countertops
Type B units in the International Building Code mostly match those of the FHA. That is, they are considered “adaptable.” Type B units feature the following:
- Sink and bathroom vanities with parallel approaches
- Specific wall blocking for grab bars
- Base cabinets that are removable
The information covered is just a broad overview. Keeping up with these regulations, along with other federal and state building codes may seem like an insurmountable task, but it’s a necessary part of staying compliant and avoiding lawsuits in the multifamily industry.