Making your building more accessible
Q: How can I make my building accessible?
A: As a multifamily property owner, making your building accessible is critical to welcoming all kinds of tenants through your doors and protecting yourself from lawsuits and fines. This also includes online accessibility, which enables people with visual or audio impairments to navigate your webpages. ADA regulations and The Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) are the go-to resources to ensure your property and website are in compliance. We’ve broken down some key regulations to keep in mind.
Key ADA regulations
The ADA outlines every indoor and outdoor feature multifamily dwellings must have to be accessible. Note that the following considerations for indoors apply to public and common areas — not units.
- Make sure corridors and rooms have adequate turning space for wheelchairs.
- Handles must be operable and should not require more than five pounds of force to use (try testing usability by opening the door with a closed fist).
- There should be at least one accessible door, doorway or gate for each publicly-accessible room.
- Automated doors are not required, but highly recommended.
- As required by the International Building Code (IBC), there should always be a means of egress. Be sure to clear at least one accessible route for exiting the building in case of an emergency. Additionally, exit signs and signs that identify stairways and floor level along the exit route must meet tactile and visual standards.
- Ensure every exit sign is illuminated for maximum visibility.
- In terms of ground surfaces, make sure they’re slip resistant, firm and stable. Think concrete and asphalt, not loose gravel.
- Any change in ground level over half an inch requires a ramp or a curb ramp.
- Clear at least one accessible route to the building entrance from each of the following: handicap parking spots, the sidewalk and public transport stops.
- Though the number of accessible parking spots will vary per lot, they must be clearly marked with the International Symbol of Accessibility sign. Additionally, at least one of every six accessible spaces (or fraction of six) in each parking lot must be sized to accommodate vans.
- Accessible spaces must be dispersed around every building entrance/exit, and if each unit is assigned a parking space, there must be one accessible space assigned to each accessible unit.
Stay up to date
The most important thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the federal, state and local regulations, and make an effort to keep your building updated. The National Disability Authority recommends auditing your building every three years and creating a plan of action after every audit.
Lucinda Lilley, a certified property manager and NAA-certified apartment portfolio supervisor, recommends hiring an inspector to do a survey of the property and assess what needs to be done to make it accessible. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to just randomly make changes — you need to have a professional advisor.” She suggests contacting a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) to help you make sure your property is in compliance. At the end of the day, it helps to remind yourself these regulations were created to make every tenant and visitor feel comfortable, accommodated and welcomed — and that taking these steps will not only improve their lives, but result in a better property.
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Current ADA regulations, Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act
Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Public Law 100-430; Sept. 18, 1988
International Building Code, International Code Council; 2018 and 2021 editions
What is a Certified Access Specialist (CASp)?, Certified Access Specialist Institute
Housing accessibility requirements: Addressing the misconceptions, National Apartment Association; May 9, 2017
What are the ADA requirements for multifamily properties?, Multifamily.loans; Sept. 14, 2019
Make your buildings more accessible, National Disability Authority
Guide to the ADA Standards, United States Access Board
Accessibility (design and construction) requirements for covered multifamily dwellings under the Fair Housing Act, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice; April 30, 2013
Accessibility requirements for buildings, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development