I received a question about effective dates for accessibility requirements, so I thought it would be worth a post to put forward some general guidance concerning the accessibility requirements for newer multifamily buildings. With respect to buildings with four or more units that were first occupied after March 13, 1991 and that have an elevator:
· Public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities;
· Doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs;
· All units must have: (a) an accessible route into and through the unit; (b) accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls; (c) reinforced bathroom walls to allow for later installation of grab bars; and (d) kitchens and bathroom that can be used by people in wheelchairs.
If a building with four or more units has no elevator and was first occupied after March 13, 1991, the above standards only apply to ground floor units.
Importantly, these accessibility requirements for new multifamily buildings do not replace more stringent accessibility standards which may be required under state or local law.
In my experience, problems can arise if the team building the project do not know (and do not take the time to learn) the applicable standards. If you are constructing a new building and you ignore the accessibility requirements in the Fair Housing Act (FHA) you can be held financially responsible. The Department of Justice takes the position that developers, architects, and owners can each be responsible for the design and construction requirements. Not knowing the law will not be an excuse if a lawsuit is filed. I have seen cases in which developers have literally had to go back and retrofit communities as well as pay significant civil penalties. You do not want to be caught in that web. Trust me on that.
Fortunately, there are a number of safe harbors which HUD has acknowledged when dealing with FHA design and construction issues. Also, training is available to help ensure compliance.
Learn the law before you get started. But, have insurance on the project, just in case.
Just A Thought.