If you are building a public accommodation, such as a large multifamily complex, it is imperative that its design complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). These laws, which protect the rights of the disabled, are enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) respectively.
When building an apartment or condominium building with at least four units, there are seven ways to make it ADA and FHA compliant. If the building has an elevator, all units must comply with these requirements: otherwise, they only apply to units on the ground floor.
- At least one public entrance to the building must be accessible.
- Common and public use areas, like the lobby, mailroom, and laundry facilities, must be accessible.
- All doors must be operable by wheelchair users.
- All routes into and through each unit must be accessible. For example, doorways and hallways must be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
- Wheelchair users must be able to operate environmental controls such as thermostats and light switches.
- Bathroom walls must be reinforced to support the future installation of grab bars.
- Wheelchair users must be able to move around the bathroom and kitchen and access their fixtures, such as faucets and oven controls.
If zoning requirements or limited space present accommodation challenges, always opt for accessibility. If a city inspector says that you don’t need to be concerned about meeting accessibility requirements due to the size or layout of the building, seek advice from a construction law attorney because you are ultimately responsible for complying with ADA and FHA guidelines.
The HUD recognizes ten safe harbors, including Code Requirements for Housing Accessibility 2000 (CRHA) and variations of the International Building Code (IBC), but you need to remain consistent. Applying different safe harbors to the same project is not allowed. For example, you can’t use the FHA Accessibility Guidelines for the bathrooms and the FHA Design Manual for the living room.
You should review your compliance policies periodically with a construction attorney, given the speed at which accessibility rules can change. Doing so can protect you from lawsuits while ensuring equal access to the disabled, which is morally as well as legally desirable.
Contact a Construction Law Attorney
To ensure compliance with ADA and FHA regulations, construction professionals should review proposed designs with a qualified and experienced construction law attorney. At Rosen Law, we can help you evaluate each project, identify areas of non-compliance, and correct them before they become a serious and costly mistake. For more information or to meet with one of our attorneys, please contact our office today.